Wii Sports Tennis is, for many people, the thing that first attracted them to the Wii, so it's no surprise that MotionPlus has been adopted by this year's two Wii tennis games. Grand Slam Tennis is EA's first attempt to take on Virtua Tennis, Smash Court Tennis and the Top Spin series, and it's no surprise to see EA competing using the means it knows best - smart licensing. Grand Slam features all five tournaments of the Grand Slam series in their real-life locations, meaning that, while Virtua Tennis 2009 has to settle for the ‘London Tennis Club', Grand Slam can give you Wimbledon. And while both games give you a choice of 23 real-life players, EA has signed up such all-time legends as McEnroe, Navratilova, Borg, Sampras and Becker, on top of modern greats like Federer, Serena Williams, Nadal and a certain, rather popular Scottish chap.
In fact, EA has been very clever in the way it pitches Grand Slam at the Wii's mainstream market. Not only can you play with such recognisable old-school heroes, all represented in their vintage prime, but the whole look and feel of the game is bright, colourful, cartoony and clearly aimed directly at a casual gaming audience. The courts and players are caricatures rather than realistic versions of what you might see on TV, and the game uses a dynamic camera system that zooms in and out on the action to give you a workable view to make your next shot. And, unlike Virtua Tennis 2009, we get action replays after shots and a reasonable commentary from Pat Cash.
What's more, the structure of the main career mode is particularly straightforward and accessible. First you create your player using a cut-down version of EA's established GameFace technology, then enter them into the Grand Slam. Each round kicks off with an exhibition match, then proceeds to a Legend Challenge where, by beating a famous player, you can win a skill (e.g. Roddick's power serve or Navratilova's netplay), which can then be used to boost your abilities using the three skill slots available to your player. After that comes a short Skill Challenge - a quick singles or doubles match played using an unusual set of rules - and, if you've performed well in the previous three events, a bonus Legend Challenge. Finally you get the tournament itself, with four rounds and a final. There's enough play in each individual tournament to keep you busy for half an hour or so, and enough variety to ensure you don't get bored. Of course, it's not the deepest or richest career mode around, but then EA knows that it's in the online and - above all else - the offline multiplayer action that the game's staying power resides.
So how does MotionPlus affect the game? Well, the game already tracks the general direction of each stroke - straight, high to low or low to high - but MotionPlus adds the chance to add spin to the ball (by twisting as you connect) and aim the ball more accurately with the follow through. It's hard to explain in words, but what comes across is that the ball does what you want it to more often than it does with the regular remote controls, and there's a greater sense that what happens on screen is directly related to what's happening in front of it. The result is a very accessible, intuitive and enjoyable game of tennis, though there are still some annoyances. Both computerised and human players will score cheap points against you by hitting shots from the net that your onscreen persona just can't run to in time, and if you play against a character skilled in net-play, this might get on your nerves quite a bit. There will also be times when the motion sensing seems to go horribly wrong, though this can usually be cured by standing still for a few seconds before your next serve to give the system time to recalibrate.
For casual players, there's no doubt in my mind that Grand Slam is the most enjoyable and entertaining tennis game on the Wii, and is the sort of game that most Wii owners will enjoy dragging out all summer long. It isn't, however, necessarily the best tennis game on the system. Confused? Don't be. All will become clear on the very next page.
A great Wii game for the casual market, both accessible and hugely appealing from the off. However, rivals have it beaten for long-term play.