Also available on: N/A
Developer: EA Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release date: June 12, 2009
At the recent E3 Expo, the buzz surrounding forthcoming new motion control devices for Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PS3 rather overshadowed a more close-at-hand motion innovation. Nintendo's Wii MotionPlus may have been the poor relation to its bigger brothers at the event, but it's the one that makes it first to market. For the release of Grand Slam Tennis (bundled with the motion add-on), headlines will most probably be taken by the accessory's arrival, but that should in no way overshadow the quality tennis experience created by EA Sports. Tapping into the feel, challenge and now the movement of high-energy contests on the world's top courts, the game stands up as one of the best tennis games currently available.
As a package, Grand Slam Tennis proves instantly impressive. In career mode, players will travel the world to take on the four major tournaments in the tennis calendar; England's Wimbledon and the French, US and Australian Opens. The feeling of a tennis career is nicely recreated, with players aiming to improve gradually and challenge the big guns on the circuit. Playing characters can be fully customised in appearance, including the usual options for hair, eye colour and so on. Winning matches also secures new clothing and accessories to wear, with brand names such as Adidas and Nike on offer (indeed, there is quite an excess of product placement in the game, as is the trend these days).
EA has secured likenesses of most of the major players from the current generation - including Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer - as well as legends from tennis history, such as John McEnroe and Björn Borg. What is equally impressive is that each player's particular style and personality has also been replicated with care, making it easy to identify them from their on-court behaviour, right down to the trademark McEnroe tantrums. Likewise, a useful breakdown is given before each match as to their strengths, weakness and possible ways to beat them. This taps into the real trick of the game, which is in bringing forth the genuine feel of competitive play.
One of the biggest triumphs in Grand Slam Tennis is the way it gives the feeling of really being out on court. Success is dependent on learning to time and direct shots, while also testing out opponents. The game makes it important to play strategically, defending against an opponent's strengths while also targeting their weaknesses. EA has clearly worked to recreate a varied challenge from the AI opponents, with baseline bashers and net hoggers ready to test the player in equal measure. This makes it essential to mix up the approach to each match, with drop shots coaxing opponents to the net and lobs catching out the serve/volley crowd.
However, there is a fairly steep learning curve to tackle at first, meaning some players may struggle, even in easy mode. It can take a while to get the feel of the game, but it is worth hanging in there. Time must be invested to really master the full range of shots, which is where Wii MotionPlus can help. The add-on delivers a greater sensitivity of controls for a more responsive touch and performance. Despite this, the accessory will likely split opinion, with some hailing it as a new dawn in controlling the action on screen and others seeing little or no difference. It certainly doesn't seem to do much for serving, which remains an imprecise part of the video game tennis experience.
The graphics may also divide opinion. An almost cartoony realisation of playing characters is a long way from the basic-looking drones on the tennis portion of Wii Sports, but it still has a touch of the cutesy about it. Still, all the courts are well recreated - Roland Garros, the All England Club, Flushing Meadows and Melbourne Park - and each has its own particular style and feel (even though there isn't really any noticeable difference between playing on the different surfaces). Pat Cash provides the commentary and delivers a few good one-liners, including: "Sometimes it seems so easy, almost like it's a video game." However, the comments are very quickly repeated, meaning most players will readily skip past them.
A range of challenges are on offer around the Grand Slams, such as exhibition matches and round robin games. Playing and beating legendary pros also awards the player with special skills - such as Michael Stich's serve or Ana Ivanović's backhand - which is all part of upgrading the player character to be more effective in future games. Star ratings are also awarded for positive play on the court to improve abilities. On the whole, opponent AI is pretty good and the game will provide a real challenge to most players. However, there are a few moments of idiocy, such as computer-controlled opponents sometimes trotting dutifully to the net when the ball has long since whizzed straight past them.
Aside from the main career mode, there is a wide variety of multiplayer options and additional content in the game. Up to four players can get involved in Party Mode with a range of mini-game challenges, ranging from fairly standard net shots and doubles to other contests like tag teams and king of the ring. Online multiplayer mainly focuses on Country Vs Country contests, in which wins go towards the players' chosen nationality. Another nice addition to the package is the Calorie Burning Challenge, in which players can set calorie goals and then judge their performance after each match (as rough estimates).
Overall, Grand Slam Tennis offers a full and positive tennis experience which stands up well against the best offerings currently on the market. Its faithful recreation of the feel of competitive tennis is impressive, as is the amount of content EA Sports has crammed into the package. Wii MotionPlus adds another dimension to the game, possibly offering a positive blueprint for how the motion accessory can be used effectively in the future. Essentially, Grand Slam Tennis is a really good addition to the sports game genre and will hopefully develop into an ace franchise in the years to come.
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