One of the biggest surprises at yesterday's EA Sports Opening Day event was Grand Slam Tennis for Nintendo Wii. At first glance, it looks like a Wii Sports tennis knock off with cartoon version of real players and stadiums. When I got my hands on the game, I found it to be an engaging experience with more simulation aspects than I was expecting. This was also my first experience with Nintendo's Wii Motion Plus, which added a new and better dimension to the game. Whether you're a gamer that just loves hitting things with a Wiimote or a tennis fan that can appreciate the game's various nuances, it looks like Grand Slam Tennis will keep you happy.
EA was quick to point out that this will be the first game to feature the legendary John McEnroe. Other classic players include Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, and Pete Sampras. Modern greats include Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Andy Roddick. On the women's side, I saw the slinky Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova. The art style uses a whimsical cartoon-like look with slightly exagerrated heads. This was done to appeal to the Wii's audience and to mask its graphical deficiencies. While I enjoyed the game's look, it was almost wasteful to see Maria Sharapova in this fashion. Line producer Thomas Singleton assured me, "We're trying to find other ways to bring out Maria Sharapova's hotness, whether it's her personality, her various stance, or her demeanor." We shall see, Mr. Singleton...we shall see.
As someone that played a ridiculous amount of tennis in his teens, I've never been satisfied with the way tennis games have conveyed the differences between various surfaces. As its name implies, you'll have the opportunity to play at each of the grand slams: The Australian Open, The French Open, Wimbledon, and The U.S. Open. These four tournaments use four different surfaces: two types of hard courts, as well as clay and grass. To take the extremes, Wimbledon's grass is ridiculously fast with a low bounce, while the clay at The French Open is much slower with a significantly higher bounce. I was actually shocked at how this was portrayed in the game. My grass-court matches were full of skidding, low shots at a zippy pace. My clay-court games were noticeably slower, with topspin shots resulting in much higher bounces. While I haven't played the game enough to say how accurate surface differences are conveyed, I'm very impressed and quite surprised with what I've seen so far.
Playing styles are also portrayed accurately. I played a few games against Boris Becker, who was a serve-and-volley player. When he was serving, he rushed the net every time. When he was receiving, he'd attack the front court at the first opportunity. This was a stark contrast to playing against baseliner Rafael Nadal, who was content to hang out in the backcourt, retrieve even the most sharply angled shots and capitalize on your mistakes. Again, this was another case of me not expecting much accuracy from a game with cartoon graphics and being surprised by its authenticity. What's that saying about books and covers?
As I mentioned in the intro, this was my first hands-on experience with the upcoming Wii Motion Plus peripheral. I was very impressed with what this little add-on offers, at least in the context of this game. Without Wii Motion Plus, the experience was better than Wii Sports tennis offering. With it, the experience was in a different league. The angles you're able to get, the way you're able to impart spin -- all of these things were much better with Wii Motion Plus. Singleton noted, "As the ball leaves your racquet, the shot-type detection and fidelity is that much greater with Wii Motion Plus." It definitely offers a higher level of interactivity, but it also takes some getting used to since your mistakes are more pronounced.
From my brief time with the game, I was extremely impressed with Grand Slam Tennis. It should be a fun game that offers something to the millions of casual players the bought the Wii, as well as enthusiastic players looking for a deeper experience than Wii Sports. If you want even more details on this game, my interview with Thomas Singleton will be up soon.