"Grand Slam Tennis"
For: Nintendo Wii
From: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone
By Billy O'Keefe
Before the Wii was marketed as a system for everyone, it was pegged as a beacon for unprecedented immersion. Now that Nintendo's $20 Wii MotionPlus peripheral is finally here — and, more importantly, games like "Grand Slam Tennis" are on board to support it — that original claim finally holds true.
It demands mentioning that "Tennis" plays fine without the peripheral. The same control scheme from "Wii Sports" is included, and "Tennis" betters it by mapping lob and drop shots to the A and B buttons and allowing players to use the D-pad to shift their character between quadrants on the court. A more advanced scheme, incorporating the nunchuck attachment, affords players full character movement along with the same shot controls. "Tennis" allows you to swap schemes and difficulty levels on the fly, which makes establishing your ideal setup reasonably painless.
But "Tennis" becomes an exponentially better game when the Wii MotionPlus enters the picture. Instead of simply reading every motion as a generic swing, "Tennis" translates your handling of the Wii remote directly into how your character handles the racket. Shots are aimed rather than merely timed, and the trajectory of your motions significantly affects the path the ball takes.
The irony of this is that en route to becoming a better game, "Tennis" becomes a much more unfriendly one first — to the point where it initially doesn't even seem like the thing works. "Tennis'" video tutorial is decent, but this kind of precision is so foreign to the Wii that a significant period of acclimation almost certainly will be necessary.
Give it that time, though — and that may mean an hour, even two, of solid play — and it should click. When it does, it feels extraordinarily precise.
Either way you play, "Tennis" backs it up with a hefty feature set. The single-player career mode is fairly standard stuff, but some of its ideas — particularly the ability to beat the likes of Nadal, McEnroe and Williams and then assign a signature move of theirs to your created player — are implemented really nicely. Local multiplayer (four players) comprises of both traditional tennis and a handful of party configurations. Online multiplayer (four players) sticks strictly to traditional singles and doubles matches, but in another nice touch, two players on the same console can play doubles together against online competition. "Tennis" also uses EA's superior online service instead of Nintendo's friend codes system.
But the slickest trick of all might be the Get Fit feature. Link your created character to a slot in Get Fit, and "Tennis" tracks your activity throughout the entirety of the game's other modes whenever you play with that character. One can only guess what method of calorie counting "Tennis" uses and how accurate it is, but seeing this little bit of progress stamped across the game's other screens adds a nice layer of secondary reward that turns even the most abysmal tennis performance into a source of positive reinforcement.
(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.