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TVG takes to the courts for EA Sports' interpretation of tennis with added MotionPlus compatibility...
Our recent hands on with Grand Slam Tennis was not only the first time we'd sat down with EA Sports' tennis game debut; it was also the first time we'd gone hands on with a MotionPlus enhanced Wii Remote. That's three firsts in one sentence, with the most notable one being the fact this is the first time EA Sports has touched a tennis game. "You can not be serious!" we here you cry but, low and behold, the mighty EA Sports has never made a tennis game before; not even with over 20 years of experience making sports titles.
The publishing house has ventured into everything from the googlys and silly mid-offs of cricket, to the drifting of NASCAR and six tackle rule of rugby league, but not one measly tennis game in amongst all of this sports gaming history, until now. Scheduled for release just prior to Wimbledon as a timed exclusive on Nintendo's Wii, Grand Slam Tennis will jostle for sales with SEGA's Virtua Tennis 2009 in the same launch window, although EA's bid for the Rosewater Dish comes with an ace up its sleeve.
Clash Of The Titans
It's perhaps fitting that the first two games to utilise Nintendo's MotionPlus adapter are going to be tennis games. Personally, we can't think of a better way to put the new hardware through its paces than a game that involves a racquet and ball, with the intricacies of each swiping gesture imparting different types of placement on the ball and the veracity of these swipes determining the power (at least in theory). Crucially though, Grand Slam Tennis will come bundled with a MotionPlus adapter while Virtua Tennis 2009 will not, merely bundling a couple of limp-wristed plastic racquets as part of its 'Championship Pack' that are decidedly MotionPlus unfriendly.
With the Need For Speed: Shift booth being right next to EA's tennis court mock-up for Grand Slam Tennis at the publisher's Spring Showcase, we ended up playing against an NFS Producer for our hands on. He played as Bjorn Borg, which seemed to fit the blonde locks of his lion's mane in much the same way that our bad temper suited the character we were left playing as (John McEnroe). Like all characters in the game, which include past masters and current superstars (with official licenses across the board, as we've come to expect from EA), both McEnroe and Borg appear as cartoon alter-egos of their real life selves, presenting a game that refuses to take itself too seriously and insists that gamers should do the same.
Clearly aimed at the casual audience, Grand Slam Tennis avoids fiddly game controls and opts for a streamlined setup in its place that revolves the vast majority of its gameplay around gestures on the Wii Remote. Forehand and backhand swipes perform powerful shots with plenty of topspin, while cutting strokes with the Wii Remote take some pace off the ball. For serving, gesturing upwards with the Remote lobs the ball in the air, while a forward thrust performs the service. Timing is crucial for this, requiring the player to motion forwards on the Remote as the ball hangs at the top of its mid-air arc in order to get the maximum power on a serve.
Shot variations can be applied by holding either the A or B button on the Remote, which results in either a lob or drop-shot, while holding down on the d-pad makes your player charge the net, but that's as complicated as it gets. Your player's movement is entirely automated and there's no need for the Nunchuk in Grand Slam Tennis, removing a layer of depth from the gameplay but also making it more accessible for casual users. Given this automated player movement, the game does open itself up to the problem of punishing gamers unduly if their on-screen character doesn't reach a shot that's obviously within their grasp, although we saw no evidence of this during our hands on. The only shots that we missed were down to poor timing on our part or a powerhouse of a shot from our opponent.
UPDATE: In a correction to the information originally posted above, players will have the option to take control of characters manually in Grand Slam Tennis using the Nunchuk. However, we did not see this demonstrated during our hands on and understand that EA is yet to demo the feature to the press.
Going Through The Motions
We did find it hard to get a grasp of exactly how much the implementation of MotionPlus has benefitted Grand Slam Tennis though. There are two reasons for this: firstly, we don't have any hands on time with the adapter on other games and so have very little scope to determine exactly how much the MotionPlus adds to the Wii's existing motion controls. Secondly, EA has gone for a simplistic (but competent nonetheless) control suite for Grand Slam Tennis that doesn't necessarily show-off the full extent of the MotionPlus' fidelity.
One thing we definitely noticed was that faster swipes of the Remote resulted in more powerful shots by quite a marked degree, which may well be down to the MotionPlus' enhancements. When it came down to shot placement though, it was very difficult to determine whether the MotionPlus' added dexterity was affecting the amount of shots that landed beyond the baseline or outside of the sidelines. Our suspicion is that this may be more dependent on the timing of a stroke in Grand Slam Tennis rather than the type of swing that the player employs, although we'll need a bit more hands on time before we can deliver our final verdict on this. EA's decision to automate player movement has clearly limited the amount of control gamers have over the placement of their shots, although we did notice that the different gestures for 'cut' and power shots appear to play-out consistently.
True to its name, Grand Slam Tennis will feature Wimbledon, the US Open, French Open, and Australian Open as playable tournaments and locations. As well as a list of today's most notable tennis stars for gamers to play as, from Roger Federer to Andy Murray and Maria Sharapova to the Williams sisters, Grand Slam Tennis will also include a wide range of classic players - Sampras, Stich, Navratilova, Cash, Becker - the list goes on...
Judging from our experience of Grand Slam Tennis so far, we fully expect EA's title to take SEGA's Virtua Tennis 2009 for five sets and a tie-breaker when Wimbledon comes around in June.
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