Before any tournament begins you’ll be tasked with competing in a number of warm-up activities, including an exhibition match (you should most definitely win these), a “Legendary Challenge” (more on this later), and a “Skills Challenge” where you have the option of selecting one of three softer approaches to the game, including Aussie doubles, Tag Team, and more.
Of the three, “Legendary Challenge” is the most alluring and altogether important. It is here where the lowly athlete you’ve brought to the pro circuit will face seemingly insurmountable odds, but with a glorious reward to be reaped if successful. Should you bring down Serena Williams, you’ll earn her blistering forehand, or Martina Navartilova’s exceptional net-play, just to name a few. These challenges are difficult, but when you do win, and you will, you’ll have earned said ability and can assign it to one of three (though you begin with one) slots, with modification allowed before each and every match to effectively and strategically attack an opponent, which you’ll need to do to win.
As far as tournament play is concerned, there isn’t too much to say. You begin, thankfully, in third round, the round of 32, and have to win a total of four matches to win the trophy. Getting past the first round, even on the game’s easy and medium settings (hard is just stupid) is no easy task. You’ll be painfully reminded that each and every shot counts like no tomorrow and should you flub up merely once, your season will be over. Thankfully (sorta) EA has built the game around a yearly circuit. So if you fail at one tournament (or all four), you’ll be able to try your hand again beginning with the Australian Open the next “year” hopefully applying the knowledge earned toward a brighter future. As always, however, you may just get unlucky. In my case, I began my Australian Open in the round of 32 against none other than the legendary Pete Sampras. And with his maxed-out stats, I was a mere leaf blowing in the wind, a puppet in his showing of tennis prowess.
In addition to the earnable legendary abilities noted earlier, your player will grow in rank, based on stars numbered from one to five, through experience throughout his or her illustrious or fail-stricken career awarded from winning matches and going for gutsy shots. Gutsy is a qualified word, I know, so let me qualify it. If your back is against the wall (sometimes literally), your avatar is huffing and puffing, the rally has gone more than 10 shots, and you decide to, out of nowhere, rip a forehand down the line and successfully complete the shot, not only will the crowd scream in jubilation, you’ll also be award bonus experience. Nice!
If you’ve tried your best and still continue to fail (as I did for so, so, so long) you’d do well to take a breather and try out some of the game’s lighter events, including a working online mode and some actually fun mini-games.
The mini-games are just that, mini. But this is no concern, as skills applied in said games, including King of the Court, Tag Team, Champs Triplets, Drop and Lob, Net Master, and Aussie Doubles, are wholly applied to your Grand Slam progression when you decide to go back.
Online play is also another facet bolstering the game’s replayability value, and is one that you’ll likely trek back to again and again, and then maybe again another time. When you log on to the EA servers you’ll recognize the user interface looks exactly like that of Madden or FIFA and within minutes you’ll be up and running. Your connection will detect that you live in the United States (hello foreign readers, if you’re out there!) and will pit you against a player of another nation. And after the grudge-match (we kid) is over, an online leaderboard system lets you track the world’s best and you’ll probably never see your name anywhere, but hey, cool nonetheless.
Overall, EA’s Grand Slam Tennis is the tennis game you’ve been waiting to play on your Wii. Fans of Wii Sports Tennis thirsting for more real action should absolutely, without doubt, pick this game up. The learning curve is steep, frustratingly so at times, but when mastered, which in terms of hours pales in comparison to real tennis, is wholeheartedly worth the effort. The game commentary is light, not in-your-face, and best of all, the real-world tennis stars’ in-game character models, though stylized, act remarkable close to how you’d expect them to. Maria Sharapova’s annoying grunts are deafeningly loud; John MacEnroe throws his racket when missing a forehand, and his voice, stating his catchphrase, “You cannot be serious” emits from the Wii-mote; Andy Roddick’s ball toss and leg motion are true; and Rafa’s screaming backhand, and Federer’s walk-on-air type court movement are impeccably accurate.
Blast Factor: A steep learning curve is a definite bar for many, but given the time and effort necessary to perfect the true 1:1 motion granted by the MotionPlus, Grand Slam Tennis is wholly lovable, and addicting to the Nth level. Those with a Wii and tennis dreams should absolutely pick this game up. You won’t be sorry.
Grand Slam Tennis is available today exclusively on the Nintendo Wii for a suggested retail price of $49.99