EA's new tennis game makes a number of unforced errors that hamper what could've been a brilliant package.
- Online play is fun and easy to set up
- Solid multiplayer offering
- Features all four grand slams.
- Unforgiving controls with little assistance to improve
- Steep learning curve
- Career mode is a bit short-lived with no minor tournaments to participate in
- No Tutorial mode.
It's been more than a decade since EA's last tennis outing, so it came as a big surprise when EA announced Grand Slam Tennis would be coming to the Nintendo Wii. The game features an all-star cast of past and present players, and with Wimbledon's inclusion, it's the first time we've seen all four Grand Slam tournaments together. Grand Slam is fun to play at times, but it's ultimately hampered by a frustrating control scheme and steep difficulty curve in the single-player mode.
Grand Slam has the foundation in place for a rewarding experience but is let down by a frustrating control scheme that makes the game a serious challenge--even on the easiest setting--to the extent that much of the game simply isn't fun. Grand Slam is one of the first games to support Wii MotionPlus and the result is disappointing; although the peripheral makes the controls feel more responsive and sensitive than a standard Wii Remote, it merely reduces the margin for error while making the game more difficult. In theory, the timing of your swing and follow-through determines whether you angle the ball to the left, right, or centre of the court, but in reality, the way that you are often heavily punished for the slightest errors makes the controls feel capricious and random. This results in the fun being rapidly sucked out of the game, especially in single-player matches where the AI almost unfailingly sends inch-perfect returns. An in-depth tutorial may have helped this difficulty curve, but Grand Slam only gives you a practice mode against a ball machine. While there are some menu animations that give a brief overview of basic and advanced shots, they're no substitute for a full-fledged tutorial.
While the Practice mode tells you what shot you're performing (for example, top spin, flat shot), Grand Slam offers no real feedback to help improve your style. This is exacerbated by the fact that your player starts with poor skills, and the only way to improve your skill and abilities is to win games against seasoned pros. Because the AI player rarely make lobs--even when you're up at the net--the easiest method to defeat the AI is with a serve and volley strategy, making the player run across the baseline to return shots. If you prefer to play on the baseline, however, you will need to return countless shots until the AI player makes a mistake, which it rarely does.
Grand Slam's single-player gameplay is split among a Grand Slam Career mode, exhibition matches, and party games. As the name suggests, the Grand Slam Career mode eschews minor competitions in favour of the four majors: the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open, preceded by a few practice matches. These consist of an exhibition match with a low-skilled player, a match against a tennis legend, and a skill challenge, which is a doubles match based on the Tennis Party games. If you win all three pretournament challenges, you'll also get a chance to play a bonus match with a legend. You can only attempt each match once per tournament, so if you lose, you'll have to wait until the following year to return and get that chance again. To win a tournament, you need to win five consecutive matches against seeded players. An additional mode called Get Fit tracks the total amount of calories you've burnt while playing and allows you to set goals, earn awards for meeting those goals, and view your progress on a calendar.
The game boasts a roster of 23 past or present players, including such household names as John McEnroe, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Justine Henin, Boris Becker, and Andy Murray. Despite the improbability of Bjorn Borg and Andy Murray playing together in a tournament, there is a certain amount of fun to be had in the novelty of seeing new and old play against each other. Though you can play as a legend in exhibition matches, when you're ready to earn a Grand Slam, you'll need to create a new player. The customisation options for your player are fairly extensive, with tweaks to your appearance and playing style on offer, which adds up to a fairly satisfying experience. Players start off with a zero-star rating and can eventually match the five-star rating of such pros as Pete Sampras by winning practice and tournament matches in the Grand Slam mode.