For a number of reasons we were genuinely excited about the release of EA Sports Grand Slam Tennis. The new game is EA’s first outing into the world of competitive digital tennis in more than a decade. Further it is one of the first games to reach market with support for the Wii MotionPlus- Nintendo’s motion-sensing control add-on. Is there any wonder we held high expectations?
The game’s content got us really psyched to hit a few balls. It is the first tennis game- ever- released that includes all four Grand Slams; Wimbledon, the French Open, the Australia Open and the US Open.
The game’s licensed player roster is equally impressive, including a blend of 23 on circuit and legendary players. There really is something quite appealing about playing John McEnroe and Rafael Nadal in a single tournament.
EA, with their cute animations, have put a lot of work into creating a Wii-like appearance to the game. This doesn’t mean that it lacks real style however. Player models bear a striking resemblance to those they portray- albeit more like caricatures. The courts are as impressive giving a real sense of setting.
The crowds and marginal characters (ball boys, umpires etc.) are a bit of a let down though. They look lifeless and lack detail which detracts from the overall feel of the game.
A real positive about the game is its wide support of controls. Yes it’s the first game to support Wii Motion-Plus, but better than that is the fact that you are not forced to purchase the Motion-Plus add-on if you don’t want to.
Your good old Wiimote will do just fine. The game-play is, however, hugely altered as it becomes a game of timing, a lot like the Wii Tennis we’re used to, but with better graphics.
You can also make use of your Nunchuk for advanced play. The Nunchuk allows you to run around the court of your own volition. This does make the game painfully tough to play for beginners though.
Unfortunately our great expectations for the game were dashed by a non-intuitive control scheme.
We found shot-placement to be a real devil to workout. Naturally you get all the fancy top spin, slice and flat shots with the MotionPlus, but this means very little when you struggle to put the ball where you want. This is compounded by poor shot selection as choosing between backhand and forehand is anything but a choice at times.
These shot-placement and selection issues make winning games a real challenge even in the beginners level. This results in a very frustrating experience. The promise of MotionPlus and a polished EA Sports title are consequently just not delivered upon.
The poor control scheme does seriously affect the game-play. Playing in career mode is fairly difficult to begin with, as you start with a zero star rated player. This completely unskilled player is improved as you win games and tournaments. The trouble is you’re up against ranked players like Nadal and Federa, so it’s pretty tough going.
A standout feature of the career mode is the character customisation tools. You are able to customise your characters appearance and playing style before you embark on your career. This adds a bit of personality and character to the game which boosts its overall charm.
Besides the career mode you are able to play exhibition matches and party games in the single-player mode. These are really just sideshows though, to keep you occupied for short periods of time.
The game becomes far more enjoyable in the multiplayer mode, online or off. This is primarily due to the fact that all players are confronted with the same control issue which evens out your chances of winning. Getting online is very straightforward and there are leaderboards to monitor, and ranked matches to play, but you can only play exhibition matches in multiplayer mode.
One of the game's major shortcomings was the lack of a decent tutorial. While it offers a practice mode, it is unfortunately a little basic and quite frankly hardly helpful. The game’s learning curve is consequently rather steep. All you get is a ball machine spitting at you and some indication of how to hit a flat, top spin, or slice shot. EA really let the side down on this front.
EA Sports Grand Slam Tennis promised much, but just failed to deliver on expectations. The use of the Wii MotionPlus should have been a revelation but it wasn’t- we didn’t even get a good idea of how well the add-on could potentially work. The look of the game, its multiplayer offering and over-all charm probably do just enough to make it worth playing. There will be times when you really find yourself enjoying it, but (and this is a big one) it won’t be long before you find yourself going off on a McEnroe tantrum.