EA Sports: Grand Slam Tennis Review

By Greg Bemis - Posted Jun 29, 2009

EA's Grand Slam Tennis has the dubious honor of not only being a new franchise for the publishing giant, but one that takes advantage of Nintendo's mostly unproven new attachment, Wii MotionPlus. So far, some games, like Tiger Woods 10 make excellent use of the little plastic nubbin, while others do not. Grand Slam Tennis falls somewhere in between.

The Pros
  • Good use of MotionPlus controls
  • Great multiplayer and online options
The Cons
  • Some calibration issues
  • Career mode is unbalanced

EA’s Grand Slam Tennis has the dubious honor of not only being a new franchise for the publishing giant, but one that takes advantage of  Nintendo’s mostly unproven new attachment, Wii MotionPlus.  So far, some games, like Tiger Woods 10 make excellent use of the little plastic nubbin, while others do not.  Grand Slam Tennis falls somewhere in between.

Slammin’ and Jammin’

Grand Slam TennisGrand Slam Tennis could be described as “Wii Sports Tennis Plus.”   The cartoony visuals look a good deal better than Wii Sports.  There are more features here than in Wii Sports.  And the controls?   Well, we’ll get to that in a bit. Electronic Arts chose not to take the realistic route for Grand Slam’s visuals, and who can blame them?  The Wii ain’t exactly a graphical powerhouse.  The soft, doughy look of the players fused with the conservative shading and texture work of the courts and backgrounds makes for a pleasing, if surreal experience.

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Williams Vs McEnroe? It’s on!

As you poke around the menus you’ll notice that the basic play options cover all the tennis basics.  In addition to your run-of-the-mill singles and doubles games, there are several variants on standard tennis.  These can mix up the scoring so points made on things like lobs and drops are worth more.  There are also games where multiple players gang up on a single player or where players rapidly rotate in and out of the court. 

Once in the game you can choose to play as one of 23 different tennis legends from the past and present, or you can create your own tennis star.  The tennis pros look reasonably close to their real life counterparts, albeit very cartoony.  And they do somewhat possess their mannerisms and play styles.  So if you play as (or against) John McEnroe, he’ll occasionally throw a little hissy fit when a call doesn’t go his way.

Who’s making that racquet?

Grand Slam TennisA tennis game is really only as good as its swing mechanic, and I’m pleased to say that with the MotionPlus attachment, you really do have an incredible amount of control over your swing. 

Basic swings are a snap.  If you load up the practice court and know a few balls around, you’ll quickly be doing topspins and slices in both your forehand and backhand.  Start giving the Wii Remote a little twist at the end of your swing and you’ll put some spin on your ball.   Lobs and drops are done by holding down the A and B buttons respectively.  And of course, the amount of power you put into your swing influences the speed of the ball.

Swing and a miss

However, there are some key caveats.  The degree of extra control presents you with a fact that, in truth, ought to be painfully obvious: tennis is hard.  The MotionPlus controls allow for an impressive degree of precision when it comes to placing the ball on the other side of the court.  So much so that you will often find yourself “out” more than you’re used to from playing other tennis games.  It took me a good few hours to fully understand the technique needed to get my shot accuracy to a point where I could actually take on a CPU opponent.  There’s definitely a learning curve here.

The other issue is with the MotionPlus peripheral itself, or at least how it’s implemented here.  As you play a match, the controls appear to frequently go out of calibration, making your swings wildly inaccurate.  The instruction manual says to hold the controller steady when this happens.  If you do this between shots, and make sweeping, deliberate movements rather than quick, jerky ones, you’ll notice your player more or less does just what you want him to.  Again, it’s a learning curve, but one that you shouldn’t have to bother with.  Recalibrating a controller over and over again in a game is pretty lame. 

There’s got to be a better way to make a living

Grand Slam TennisWhen you’re finally comfortable with the controls, you’ll probably head off to career mode.  Here players bop between four tournaments during a season.   At each tournament you’ll play through some exhibition and challenge matches before the main event.  Then you can take a crack at the tournament.  After than, win or lose, it’s off to the next one.  The ultimate goal is to win each tournament, and if you really think you have what it takes, you can attempt to win all four in a single season.

But don’t get your hopes up.  Career mode is ridiculously hard.  At the beginning, not only will you be wrestling with the controls, but you’ll be pitted against the absolute greats of tennis.  Worse yet, your character starts out as a pathetically weak player.  You can gain new abilities like a better serve or stronger backhand by besting the tennis pros during a match, but at the beginning of the game, it’s simply too hard. 

So instead of a nice inviting progression of challenges designed around your skill level, you’re presented with a brick wall, given a popsicle stick, and told to chip your way through to the other side.  Things do get better, but most players will probably ditch career mode and just play the core tennis games.

Advantage: Grand Slam Tennis

For a freshman effort, Grand Slam Tennis is pretty impressive.  It looks good and plays well, providing you give yourself enough time to acclimate to the controls.  Career mode definitely has some balance issues, but if you want the most convincing approximation of real tennis on your Wii, Grand Slam Tennis is the one to get.