You're likely to go through a few different emotions when playing EA's MotionPlus-enabled Grand Slam Tennis for Wii. Initially it's one of amazement. You're able to swing the Wii Remote and position your shots more or less where you want by the stroke alone. Swing up to down or down to up and you'll hit the ball with slice or top spin, just like you would in real life. It feels just as it should, which is pretty much all we wanted from EA's debut Wii title, and its first MotionPlus game. But then that great first impression falls away quite dramatically.
The official license for each of the four grand slams is great. Wimbledon, the Australian, French and US Opens are all here. Each competition features the show courts that will be familiar from TV coverage, as well as minor courts that house the games between the lesser-known players. Having them all here is a big coup for EA and it gives the game an authenticity missing from the likes of Virtua Tennis and Top Spin.
There's a great player roster too, covering male and female players past and present. Current favourites Nadal, Federer and Murray are all here, as are the likes of the Williams sisters, and they're joined by retired greats such as McEnroe, Henin and Sampras. The entire game is presented in an almost cartoon-like style, with players having exaggerated features while retaining what makes them recognisable. This no doubt helped EA produce an attractive game on the Wii, a console that would have struggled with highly detailed player and court models.
All this is great and shows that EA has put a lot of care and attention into its Wii offering - the fact that Grand Slam Tennis is launching on Wii ahead of other platforms is testament to this too. Things aren't all rosy though, as some extended time on court reveals a few unfortunate flaws that will start to niggle and grate the more you play. Chief among these are a few control issues, but a fairly rudimentary career mode doesn't help either.
When it works the MotionPlus controls are excellent, as we've described above. The problem is that controlling your character with the Nunchuck at the same time as swinging the Remote isn't as easy as it appears, and you'll likely get quite frustrated. Trying to focus on the correct swing type and simultaneously get your player into the right position on court is something for expert players only. As a result, the best option for many will be to let the game handle player movement, as is the case in Nintendo's Wii Sports Tennis.
For the most part the AI does a good job at getting your player in the right position, but on too many occasions we found the AI overrunning the desired position, forcing us to play a shot on the wrong side and return the ball rather weakly. On these occasions where you're forced to play a backhand instead of an incredibly obvious and simple forehand you'll likely give your opponent the upper hand and curse the fact that all the hard work up until that point in the rally has been wasted.
We also had numerous occasions where the game didn't recognise a swing at all, despite our action changing very little from one shot to another. Once in a blue moon is fine, but this happened too often to be ignored. Drop and lob shots also break the illusion somewhat as they can only be triggered while holding A or B, rather than simply making the real-life motion. It's far from game breaking, and works fine, but it's a shame a button press is required given how well the other controls work most of the time.
As in all modern sports games, the career mode is the real meat of the package, giving you the chance to take a custom character through the elite tennis ranks as you attempt to win the four grand slams. While the four majors are present and correct, that's it. You take part in practice matches and challenges before each big tournament kicks off, but these all take place at the same major venues. There are no small-time tournaments to take part in at all. The way you win character upgrades through beating pros, and stars by generally playing well, is a nice touch, but the career mode definitely feels slight.
Outside of that there's the expected multiplayer options, including online play, a fitness mode that tracks how many calories you've burnt with your Grand Slam Tennis sessions, numerous mini-games (although these are of a rather serious nature and don't feature the kind of mayhem seen in SEGA's VT series) and a practice mode. There's certainly enough here you keep you playing for some time, but the big draw is multiplayer and not the career mode. Incidentally, the game works without Wii MotionPlus, but it's not nearly as much fun - if you want the full experience you'll need Nintendo's new accessory.
A final note: Grand Slam Tennis is tiring. It might be an obvious thing to say, but don't expect to be playing this for hours on end. While there's no need to run around the living room, the constant need to swing your arm will cause a few aches and pains. While you can get away with couch play when messing about with Wii Sports Tennis, sit down during Grand Slam and it's just not the same.
If you're after the most realistic feeling tennis game on the market, Grand Slam Tennis for Wii is it, when it works. MotionPlus-enabled shots can be performed by feel alone (as long as you're not lobbing or performing drop shots) and this will be enough for a lot of gamers - just be prepared for a fair few annoying moments. If you're after an in-depth single-player experience you might be disappointed though, as what's on offer here is geared around playing with friends.