Grand Slam Tennis Review

By Darryl Kaye on August 6, 2009

Tennis is something that couldn't be more perfectly suited to the Nintendo Wii's control scheme, so when Wii MotionPlus was announced, it was fitting that a tennis game would be one of the first to fully utilise its newfound power. EA Sports didn't just want to create the ideal tennis game with respect to controls though, and they've taken great strives to create the most definitive tennis game yet.

The crux of Grand Slam Tennis is the Grand Slam mode. This is effectively a career mode which allows players to create their own tennis player and try to capture all four Grand Slams. Unfortunately, the amount of customisation is fairly limited with regards to appearance, as there is only a handful of options for each category. This isn't the same for accessories though, as officially licenced products appear in abundance and it's just a shame there wasn't a more even distribution between this and appearance. The majority of accessories start off locked though, and they can be unlocked by progressing through the Grand Slam mode.

Each tournament consists of numerous matches, with practice matches being the first encountered. These allow skills to be honed, as well as unlocking new abilities and accessories. There are three basic matches which are played on the practice courts: an exhibition match against an unknown opponent, a skills match against a famous face and a party game. If victory is achieved in all of these, an optional skills match can be played. The skills matches offer the quickest way to improve a player's character, as each of the professionals featured in the game has a specific trait. These traits are ranked from bronze to gold and help to improve things like general forehand play, or a slice backhand. However, only three can be used at any given time and only once the character has achieved a certain skill level.

Upon completing the practice matches, players then get to tackle the main tournament. They are entered into the later stages of the draw and gradually progress through the areas on offer at the competition, culminating in a final that's played on the premiere show court. It's a nice touch, which shows that creating a game that plays like tennis wasn't the only objective, it had to feel like tennis too. A big part of tennis is the atmosphere and great strives have been taken to create this. Play at the US Open and the crowd will be a bit rowdy, play at Wimbledon and they will be in perfect silence when a point begins.

All of the different venues are recreated perfectly, and even the lesser known courts still show their true colours. When playing on the newly named Court No. 3 at Wimbledon, it's possible to see Centre Court in the background, as well as the LTA Member's Enclosure and it's these kinds of details that are really endearing to tennis fans. The only minor gripe is that there are only four tournaments in the game, and it would have been nice to see some other venues from around the world represented. It does make the tennis world seem a bit lacking, as obviously a real tennis season isn't just about the four Grand Slams.

While the atmosphere of tennis has been faithfully recreated in Grand Slam Tennis, the gameplay isn't as faultless. Wii MotionPlus does make a huge difference to the range of shots that can be played, but there is a rather large learning curve. If players simply swing the racquet how they naturally would, shots will become all too familiar, and while this is ok against another human player, the AI will quickly exploit this. Getting literal position isn't the easiest thing in the world, and more often than not, shots will go in completely the opposite direction to that intended, despite doing exactly as the control scheme dictates.

Performing the various shot types, such as top spin and slice, is relatively simple. Players need to swing from low to high in order to perform a top spin shot, and the opposite for a slice. However, things start to get tricky with regards to direction. The correct timing is required, so that the end of the Wii Remote is facing in a certain direction upon making contact with the ball, but for the most part, it requires too much precision. On top of this, it's also far too easy to perform unforced errors. This wouldn't be much of an issue as afterall, it's part of tennis. However, the AI hardly ever has any unforced errors and it can get a bit frustrating.

Using the Nunchuk to traverse the court can also be problematic. If a player guesses the wrong way, they have essentially lost the point, as their on-screen players find it almost impossible to turn. Their speed and agility can also be put into question, as despite being near a ball, they will struggle to get a shot off or just miss entirely. There are also many situations where a double bounce is called, despite the replay showing that the ball didn't bounce twice. Unfortunately these are niggling issues that undermine the good things that Grand Slam Tennis achieves, as these could have been easily ironed out.

Grand Slam Tennis exhibits a rather refreshing art style. Instead of trying to represent history's most famous tennis players by using realistic graphics, EA Sports have instead decided on a more cartoony art style. It's something that has been seen in other Nintendo Wii games recently and it's a nice touch. Players all have their signature grunts and screams and listening to a match is actually akin to listening to the real thing. The commentary however is a bit lacklustre. Pat Cash has provided his vocal talents, but it sounds as though he wasn't overly interested in doing the voice work and his lines start to get a bit tedious after a while. It would have been nice to see some of the other professionals lend their voices in the commentary booth, especially at the various tournaments, but Pat does tide things over, if only in the short term.

Replayability is an area where Grand Slam Tennis achieves a lot. There is an online mode which exhibits minimal lag, which enables people to participate in ranked matches against people from around the world. It's also possible to use the players created personally online too, which is a nice touch. Offline, party games can be played with up to four people and there is a nice level of variety on offer. These range from Australian Doubles, to King of the Hill and there is even a tournament option, which tallies up scores in a designated time period.

Final Thoughts

Grand Slam Tennis is probably the most realistic tennis game so far, in terms of the atmosphere it creates. All of the four Grand Slams are represented faithfully, and the addition of so many great tennis players from down the years is a nice touch. However, the gameplay is a huge stumbling block for the game, and prevents it from being the definitive tennis experience.

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