Last week I had the privilege of hitting the courts with Virtua Tennis 09, also on the Wii and released at the same time as EA’s Grand Slam Tennis. Although Virtua Tennis scored highly, it didn’t feel entirely accessible – favouring tennis fans greatly in terms of the amount of patience and skill required. This is all good and well, but a large amount of Wii owners are casual gamers. For those people, it looks like EA Sports Grand Slam Tennis might be the better option.
EA have long been highly regarded in the genre of sports games with their Madden, Fifa, Tiger Woods Golf and NBA titles dominating sales each season. Curiously though, this is their first official release regarding the code of tennis. This has meant that EA Sports have built the game from the ground up specifically for the Wii console, complete with a new engine and physics model. The final product is a very well presented, extremely playable and detailed tennis game.
Firstly the game looks brilliant and suits the Wii aesthetic perfectly. Players are represented by lively caricatures, each one fully capturing their real life counter-parts (including the likes of the Williams sisters, John “I'll let the racket do the talking” McEnroe, Boris Becker, Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer and more). This polished, smooth appearance carries across to all facets of the game and makes it one of the nicest looking Wii games to date.
Of course all of this counts for naught when compared to the controls – something the Wii has to take full advantage of. EA Grand Slam Tennis has been designed for Nintendo’s recently released MotionPlus add-on that gives improved sensitivity with your Wii-motes. The end result is a control system that feels fairly natural and is highly responsive. Once you have mastered the timing side of things, it won’t be long until you will feel like you’re really playing tennis, smacking forehands, backhands and spin shots all across the courts. Swinging your arm early will result in across court shots (left to right) whilst swinging late will send the ball straight (or too late / early and you will either miss the ball or send it out of court). The MotionPlus also tracks the power of your shots too, meaning furniture-destroying gorilla swings are rewarding. Also, serving aces is now worth dislocated arm sockets. Even without the MotionPlus, the game reacts nicely to your actions and fans of Wii Sports’ Tennis will feel right at home playing this game – while appreciating the extended array of shots that Grand Slam Tennis has on show. However we recommend the MotionPlus attachments for those wanting a more accurate tennis experience.
Unlike Virtua Tennis 09, EA haven’t done away with the use of buttons altogether. Drop and lob shots are made by holding down the B trigger and A buttons respectively while swinging. It’s not as realistic as some might like, but it makes the game more accessible and will give more players greater control over game-winning shots without frustrating mishaps. If you are holding down the B trigger, you don’t need to worry about that perfect amount of angle on the Wii-mote. Instead it’s your timing and direction of your swing that determines how the ball will be nudged over the net.
Like Wii Sport’s Tennis, the AI will automatically position your player on the court, allowing you to focus on just the swing. However, as we found out with Virtua Tennis, using your Nunchuck controller to fully control your footwork is definitely recommended here as well. There are times where the AI will place your player on the wrong side of the ball requiring you to suddenly adjust your forehand to a backhand. Positioning your player manually with the Nunchuck controller also allows you to anticipate return shots or to try and force an error from your opponent.
EA Grand Slam Tennis has a comprehensive selection of game modes too. As the name implies, EA have secured the exclusive rights to some of the World’s most prestigious tennis tournaments – the French Open, Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open. You can even create your own custom player (the customisation features are typical of EA’s impressive track record, albeit with some visual limitations of the Wii) and have them take part in a career mode, in an effort to hold all four Grand Slam titles. Victories and prize money can all be used to purchase accessories from the likes of official sponsors such as Nike, Adidas and more. Having audio commentary between shots is a nice touch too – although Pat Cash’s Australian accent may prove too much for some (note: Pat Cash fans will be happy to hear he is a playable character!).
The mini-game modes available in Grand Slam Tennis aren’t quite as imaginative as what we saw in Virtua Tennis 09. No more pirate ships or blowing up strange “alien” network servers. EA have gone for a more realistic approach by having matches that tweak the rules rather than change the game entirely. For example, you can play two against one, where the players rotate around the court, each one taking a turn to be by themselves against a doubles pairing. If you manage to beat the odds you score bonus points for your solo win. Another one gives double points for winning drop or lob shots from each rally. The end result is a frantic match of players racing up to the net and trying to out-fox their opponent instead of the typical smash and return routine. There are over a dozen to try out and up to four players can all partake in Party Mode. To really mix it up, you can select “random” mode which will run you through a set number of mini-games in any order. These extend into the online multiplayer modes included in Grand Slam Tennis too. In fact the Online Play opens up a whole new door to the game, providing a very well implemented online experience. It tracks victories and losses per country (players select their country of origin) and it means that you can help push your country to the top of the leader board with your ever-improving skills. It makes the game feel like an International grand slam tournament – but in real life against other players all vouching for their national pride.
For fitness fanatics out there, EA have carried their Sports Active theme across to this title too. The game claims to track the number of calories burnt while playing – personally it seems pretty mediocre, but I appreciate it’s a nice touch. What it does do however is remind you how active you are playing a Wii game as opposed to your standard consoles. After an hour of play you can’t help but notice your swinging arm has had a decent work-out and just waiting for a serve you‘ll find yourself standing there with your feet apart, swaying from side to side like an idiot.
For those waiting to decide which Wii tennis title is for you – it’s still a tricky one as both Virtua Tennis 09 and Grand Slam Tennis are great games. Basically for actual tennis players or those wanting a simulation of the sport – Virtua Tennis 09 is probably more your thing. For families, casual gamers or those who just enjoyed the simplistic nature of Wii Sports’ Tennis but want something more – EA’s Grand Slam Tennis is probably a better match. It’s fun, accessible to all gamers, challenging and very easy on the eye graphically.