The WiiMotionPlus is Nintendo’s second wave of motion control. Bolting onto the bottom of a standard remote, the WMP offers another axis of movement sensing that apparently gives the player a more accurate representation of 1 to 1 control. Someone forgot to tell EA this, as for the first few hours you will be utterly convinced that your WMP isn’t actually working, or is failing to register.
Such is the subtlety it brings to EA’s new flagship Tennis title, Grand Slam Tennis, that if you blink you’ll miss the extra level of control the device offers. Some visual clue that the device is connected would be a start, but more than that would be some represenation on screen by your character that you’re holding the Wiimote like a tennis racquet would be nice – but no, as with most Wii games, your player looks like someone removed all the bones from their arms as natural stance and movement are misrepresented as your on-screen avatar looking distinctly odd and disjointed.
So the real question is “Does EA’s Grand Slam Tennis offer more than other Wii tennis titles?”
It certainly does. And for all my moans and groans about the WiiMotionPlus support, one hour into playing Grand Slam Tennis will see something suddenly ‘click’ with the way you play, and you’ll find that placing the ball exactly where you want it on court becomes intuitive, easy and flowing. Now that’s something you really don’t see very often on the Wii let alone in tennis games.
A sporting chance
Stacking it up against the likes of Wii Sports Tennis, the previous “king of the court” as far as I’m concerned, Grand Slam Tennis offers quite a few extra tweaks and realistic tennis strokes that go beyond just batting the ball back and forth.
The way you hold the Wiimote for this might not seem intuitive at first – the sides of the Wiimote are the face and back of the racquet, effectively where you’d be thinking the button side / top would be the face of the racquet and the bottom / B button side would be the back. Once you learn to keep the Wiimote relatively horizontal and ensure that the face side of the Wiimote is level with the screen (or for backhands, the back side), you’ll start to successfully make shots you didn’t dream were possible.
Grand Slam Tennis offers several modes. The Grand Slam Tournament mode is the biggie, giving you several challenges and bonus matches to hone your player into a tennis legend. Once you’ve created your on-screen avatar (characters are quite cartoony but most of the famous tennis stars are pleasingly represented here) you’re ready to sink your teeth into some matches. Choice of controls is left to you. With the WMP disconnected and purely using the Wiimote, the game does feel a lot like Wii Sports Tennis with movement of player happening automatically. With a Nunchuck and WMP attached, you’re effectively in “expert” mode and this gives you a massive advantage – if you don’t end up wrapping the Nunchuck cable around yourself! (There are wireless ones creeping onto the market now and I’d strongly advise tracking one down for this, it really is a good idea to use the Nunchuck and not trust the game to move you around effectively on court, it does a terrible job of it!)
In my first matches I lost, lost, and lost again. I spent so much time thinking about the way I was holding the Wiimote and how I was timing my shots that I just couldn’t seem to hit a ball let alone win a point. At several points you’re reminded that if the WiiMotionPlus loses calibration you should put it on a level surface for a few seconds to recalibrate. So I found myself constantly doing this, constantly going back to the tutorials (which are pretty awful compared to other EA sports titles) and even watching the unskippable 3 minute instructional movie that tells you how to connect the WMP correctly. All that was a waste of time but what turned the game around for me was thinking about the way you hold a tennis raquet and not how you hold a Wiimote.
As soon as I started to produce proper tennis strokes (bending my memory back to tennis lessons at school and the few matches I’ve had as an adult), it all clicked into place. The WMP went from a useless widget to an essential piece of kit and after 2 hours in total with the game I beat Venus Williams into the ground like a tent peg. I don’t need to tell you how good that felt.
That was it. I was hooked. Each point against a pro felt hard-fought for, but every match I won felt utterly and completely rewarding. Working my way through Grand Slam mode has now become something of an obsession and an addiction. Couple Grand Slam mode with the fact that the game rather handily has a fitness mode built in that shows you exactly how many calories you’ve burned during a game, and you can start to see why Grand Slam Tennis is the best tennis game on the wii to date.
But, and there are several big buts, it’s not perfect. Not by any means. Multiplayer network gaming is included, but sometimes you just want to grab a few friends (assuming you’re rich enough to afford enough controllers with WMPs so no one can claim an unfair advantage) and work through Grand Slam Mode. You can’t do that, local multiplayer is limited to just facing off against an opponent in single matches.
The option to customise your tournaments and set up a round robin would’ve been nice, but EA probably spent so much time wrestling with the concept of how to transpose your flailing arm waving into smooth tennis strokes. And smooth is the operative word, the more measured and controlled you can be with this, the more rewarding the game will be for you.
Virtually all of the picky points I could make about the game are that EA could seriously have made more effort to get new players started. It’s easy to see how people can be put off by the amount of time you need to invest in the game initially to get a handle on how to make the most of the controls. It’s certainly not a title I’d urge you to rush out and buy a WMP for but if you’ve stumped up the cash, you won’t have wasted your money because you do get a slight advantage.
EA has tried to make a tennis game that is all things to all players of all types, and in that they’ve failed. In producing a game that, once time is invested in it, becomes addictive and essential they have ultimately succeeded but my lasting impression of this and indeed of the WiiMotionPlus is that we still haven’t seen the best the device has to offer just yet.