Grand Slam Tennis First Hands-On
We go hands-on with the upcoming Wii tennis game, which will make use of the Wii MotionPlus add-on.
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Bjorn Borg isn't playing with a wooden racket with a tiny little head, but other than that, this feels pretty much like tennis. He's running all over the court, making devastating backhand and forehand shots, and driving toward the net exactly like you'd expect the legendary Swede to play. Sure, EA Sports' upcoming Grand Slam Tennis for the Nintendo Wii isn't a sim in terms of its visuals, but when it comes to swinging the racket, you won't find a more accurate representation of the sport on the Wii. Or, perhaps, anywhere else.
As explained in our recent interview with Grand Slam producer Thomas Singleton, the tennis game will use the Wii MotionPlus add-on, which Nintendo will be releasing this year. The idea is that by snapping the MotionPlus add-on to the bottom of your Wii Remote, you'll be able to enjoy even more responsive controls for your games. For Grand Slam Tennis, that translates to a near one-to-one movement between what you're doing with the Wii Remote and what your onscreen player is doing with his racket. In fact, the controls are so sensitive that you can roll the Wii Remote in your hands and the player will roll the racket in sync. As a result, you'll need to be mindful of how level your racket is when you're swinging, because angling the face up or down will make a difference in how the shot comes off the racket's face.
While a great deal of control sensitivity is great for the virtual tennis experts out there, Grand Slam Tennis is meant to appeal to a wide range of skill levels. We played the game without the Wii MotionPlus controls and found the player swing very responsive; we were able to hit a variety of shots with relative ease, and with a little more practice, top spin, lob, and drop shots would have been well within our reach. In fact, as producers explained to us, when playing the game with the Wii Remote alone your shot placement will depend soley on the timing of the swing. By contrast, playing with Wii MotionPlus controls, your success will depend on a mixture of your timing, your player position, and exactly how you move the racket. So if you're looking to take a shot cross-court from right to left, you'll want to make sure you swing early and swing the racket across your body to maximize the angle.
In a nod toward tennis newbs, you can choose to play Grand Slam Tennis with just a Wii Remote, giving up player movement control to the CPU. At first we were put off by the system, but after some time with the game, we came around to it, at least a little. Players move quickly and change direction in a realistic manner, and provided you're smart with your shot selection, you can keep a ralley going for a while. The game's physics base so much of your success on the timing of your swing--whether using the Wii MotionPlus controls or the Wii Remote by itself--that you need to be smart about how and when you swing the racket. How hard you swing counts too; the quicker your swing, the harder your shot. As a result, it's possible to mess up more subtle shots (like the drop shot) by simply hitting it too hard.
While you can plug in a nunchuk and control player movement yourself, when playing with the Wii Remote alone, you still have minimal control over your player's positioning. By pressing up on the directional pad you can move your player toward the net; by pressing down on the D pad you can move your player to the baseline.
The Grand Slam events make up the core experience in Grand Slam Tennis, with the quartet of tennis slams being the ultimate goal. As you've probably heard, this is the first tennis game that features Wimbledon. The different stadiums all look great, but more importantly, their different surface types will have a very discernible effect on your game. The clay surface at Roland-Garros (home of the French Open) will cause slower play, with players sliding on the clay and having a more difficult time changing direction. That is, unless you're playing as Rafael Nadal, who excels on clay--as producers told us, the tennis players who will make up the roster of Grand Slam Tennis will all have specific strengths and weaknesses. Pete Sampras will have a devastating serve; Nadal will be deadly on clay; and Bjorn Borg will be an aggressive, net-minded player. Playing to these strengths will help you find success in matches--the game will even give you specific tips before a match begins, detailing the weaknesses of your opponent.
Stadiums like Wimbledon and Roland-Garros have a bright and colorful look to them, and the player model designs might best be described as caricature, with tall, lanky physiques and enough facial accuracy to be instantly recognizable. You'll recognize Nadal from his long hair and his sleeveless shirts, and if Sampras' in-game model has a bit more hair than the tennis great is rocking these days, his distinctive facial features are well intact. We didn't get a chance to check out the ladies in action, but players like Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic were playable in the demo we saw.
Certainly there's plenty to like about Grand Slam Tennis--the easy-to-learn controls, the fast pace of play, and exclusive access to Wimbledon. What remains to be seen is if the game will truly appeal to the Wii Sports crowd, while still being able to satisfy tennis junkies yearning for a more in-depth tennis experience on the Wii. That Nintendo hasn't announced a solid release date for the Wii MotionPlus add-on is another thing to keep in mind--as the peripheral will give hardcore tennis fans the most long-term bang for their buck when the game is released in mid-June. Look for more on Grand Slam Tennis in the coming weeks.