Things We Like
A tailor-made product: Nintendo disciples, rejoice! With Grand Slam Tennis, EA Sports finally delivers a title that feels like it was made for the Wii -- and not just a slimmed-down derivative of a superior game for another console. The launch title of the latest franchise in EA's stable of sports sims, Grand Slam is one of the first releases to make use of the Wii MotionPlus peripheral, which promises true 1:1 representation of your real-life movements on the screen. This enhanced control enables the user to pull off every shot in the tennis arsenal -- slices, drop shots, lobs -- with realistic topspin and backspin lending strategic depth to the proceedings. Is the game playable without MotionPlus? Sure it is. But you'll definitely notice the difference.
Slam-dunk features: With the exclusive Wimbledon license, Grand Slam is the first tennis game to feature each of the sport's four major tournaments -- with Rod Laver Arena, Court Philippe-Chatrier and Arthur Ashe Stadium among the dozen real-life courts rendered exquisitely. Put together a character through the (impressively detailed) create-a-player mode and refine your game through exhibitions, legend challenge matches and other skill-building exercises on your way to the ultimate goal: winning the Career Grand Slam.
A who's who of tennis luminaries: There's no shortage of real-life talent in Grand Slam, which features 23 players with 136 Grand Slam singles titles among them. Current stars include Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Kei Nishikori, Lleyton Hewitt, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and the Williams sisters. The playable legends include names like John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg, Pat Cash, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Michael Stich, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Justine Henin and Lindsay Davenport. Pick a side and rewrite the great rivalries of the Open era -- Navratilova-Evert, McEnroe-Borg, Becker-Edberg, Federer-Nadal -- on the most famous courts in tennis.
Online done right: The online modes for Wii games -- the sports titles in particular -- have proven somewhat underwhelming since the console's 2006 release. Frame drops and general slowdown made Madden and FIFA almost unplayable online during peak hours. By contrast, online play in Grand Slam runs smoothly and the features really stand out. You're not just playing for yourself: Online match results also earn points for your country, a fun innovation which reflects the global nature of modern tennis. (One conspicuous omission: The option of playing tournaments online would've been a nice addition. Maybe next year.)
Party favors: When it comes to party modes, I'm from the take-'em-or-leave-'em school. But there's some great stuff in Grand Slam beyond the obvious tack-on entries. Once you've reached a certain level of competency with the game, you can derive hours of enjoyment from the tag team matches, 2-on-1 contests (where the players rotate after each set) and "King of the Court," where only an always-shifting designated player on the court can score points.
See Grand Slam Tennis in action ...
Things we'd change
Not quite 1:1 as billed: This is a challenging game, so steer clear if you're looking for a tricked-out version of Wii Sports tennis. It'll take you between 30-to-60 minutes to get the hang of the WiiMotion Plus. You'll need to recalibrate it several times during a match -- and there's nothing more unnerving than your controller falling out of sync mid-rally. Consequently, you're not always mimicking the exact motions you'd use on a tennis court -- but once you've gotten a couple matches under your belt, you'll pick up little tricks necessary for sustained success against human or computer opponents.
Freshman jitters: Grand Slam isn't without the kinks common to franchise launch titles. One annoying common flaw: When you draw your racket back, your character often swings prematurely. There are also instances when the game seems to have trouble discerning a forehand from a backhand -- and your character ends up whiffing at thin air. Again, the more you play, the more you're able to adjust your movements accordingly and limit these gaffes -- but here's hoping next year's edition can provide a more truly intuitive experience.
The price of success: To get the most out of Grand Slam, you'll need the WiiMotion Plus ($19.99 MSRP) and the Wii Nunchuk Controller ($19.99 MSRP). And you'll probably want two of each peripheral, since multiplayer mode is the heart of the game. So unless you already own those add-ons, you're looking at a pretty steep price tag to get the full Grand Slam experience.
Sound failure: The spotty match commentary from Pat Cash (who's also a playable character in the game) seems underdone and generic with very few player-specific comments. Given the high marks EA Sports has earned for its audio commentary in other sports titles, it's a curious setback -- and it overshadows the enjoyable Paul van Dyk soundtrack.
EA Sports has a hit with Grand Slam Tennis, creating perhaps the best tennis video game of all-time -- months before its Fall 2009 release dates for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. If you're a tennis junkie, you'll eat this game up. This game may look a bit like Wii Sports tennis -- with the cartoonish renderings of past and current tennis stars -- but there's a strategic depth beyond the surface which makes Grand Slam the closest thing in gaming to a real-life tennis match. The game is not without its flaws, but minor glitches and audio nitpicks are merely venal sins for a first-time outing. We can't wait until next year's sophomore effort -- but we'll spend the next 11 months getting hours of enjoyment out of this one.
-- Reviewed by Bryan Armen Graham