Grand Slam Tennis Updated Hands-On
Witness John McEnroe's hair in its poofy '80s glory.
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Those craving a follow-up--or perhaps something with more depth--to the spectacularly popular tennis portion of the Wii Sports package should be excited about Grand Slam Tennis, if for the simple reason that it's one of the first games to make use of Nintendo's Wii MotionPlus controls. After all, the idea of an onscreen tennis player almost identically mimicking your strokes and grip is essentially why most people, including those who rarely play games, are intrigued by the combination of motion controls and tennis to begin with. But in some ways, citing Wii MotionPlus controls as Grand Slam Tennis' big-ticket feature is almost selling it short, given that plenty of work has gone into making other facets of the game just as intriguing, at least for fans of the actual sport.
One area in which this is immediately evident is in player behavior. For the most part, a player's skill in Grand Slam Tennis seems to accurately reflect his or her real-life counterpart. For example, someone such as Serena Williams has the tendency to stay on the baseline because she has a lot of power and can make some vicious cross-court shots. Conversely, Martina Navratilova, one of the all-time great players included in the roster, likes to serve and volley. Although her ground strokes may not be able to compete with the likes of a Serena Williams, her volley skills at the net make up for it. Of course, it's one thing to hear someone say this, and it's another to actually see it happen in-game.
We took up a match with these same players, and it was refreshing to witness their individual strengths and weaknesses play out over the course of a few games. Serena completely outgunned us on the baseline, blasting the ball to both corners of the court and making it almost impossible to hold a decent rally for more than 30 seconds, even with the automatic player control (or non-Nunchuk computer-assisted controls) turned on. But once we started charging the net, which you can perform by pressing up on the Wii Remote's D pad, the match changed in our favor--we pushed Serena around on the court so she didn't have a chance to get set and hit a solid shot. Naturally, there were several times when we got burned in our eager attempts to dash toward the net, but that just went further in demonstrating the level of strategy involved and how it's better to know and use a player's strength than it is to just hang back and think that you can hit everything thrown at you.
We also played this match with and without the Wii MotionPlus feature. (You can connect and disconnect the peripheral at any time and you need to hold still and wait for only a second or two for it to sync properly.) Without MotionPlus it felt more like a standard Wii tennis game, requiring you to time your swing in just such a way to control the direction of the ball, albeit with more strategy involved. But with the MotionPlus sensor snuggly attached to the bottom of the Wii Remote, another layer comes into play as slices and top spin become more prevalent during a rally. Interestingly, what makes this aspect of the game so dynamic is that you can grip the Wii Remote much as you would an actual racket to execute either shot type. On top of that, the game requires a little more effort in terms of performing a correct swing; simple shaking of the Wii Remote won't cut it when the MotionPlus option is on.
All of this comes together in what is likely to be a well-rounded tennis game and a good early demonstration for what the Wii MotionPlus can do. Although Grand Slam Tennis' cartoony art style may not necessarily be suggestive of an in-depth game, it seems as if EA has gone to great lengths to make Grand Slam Tennis as accessible as any Wii tennis game that came before it, while also bringing a level of realism that those games don't have by combining the added functionality of MotionPlus with an adherence to tennis strategy.
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