It’s hard to believe that during the 15-plus years of success by the EA Sports brand only one tennis game has ever been released under the North American label: IMG International Tour Tennis for the Sega Genesis, which debuted in 1994 and received little fanfare and a lukewarm critical reception.
This time around, while critical reception for Grand Slam Tennis will be delayed until the game actually comes out, the fanfare surrounding Grand Slam Tennis for the Nintendo Wii already outweighs the hype surrounding its forgotten ancestor on the Genesis.
In current times, the virtual tennis courts are not quite as crowded as they were back in the 16-bit days when developers such as Sega, Tengen, Codemasters, Ubisoft, Namco, and of course, Nintendo were trying their hand at the sport on the Super Nintendo and Genesis, but Grand Slam Tennis developer EA Canada still faces some tough competition from established brands like Virtua Tennis, Top Spin, Mario Tennis and even the more niche Smash Court Tennis series.
And while EA Canada certainly has a reputation of its own to fall back on (NHL 09, FIFA 09, NBA Street, SSX, and so on), there’s no doubt that tennis fans will have plenty of alternatives to choose from next month if Grand Slam Tennis cannot live up to the company’s high pedigree.
Player and Tournament Licenses
To date, there are 23 confirmed characters in the Grand Slam Tennis roster. Twelve of those players are current pros like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova, and the remaining 11 are retired legends like Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova.
According to EA Canada, these players aren’t just for show either. In a recent Gamespot interview, EA Sports Producer Thomas Singleton said that, "you will experience different games when playing a serve and volley player like Pete Sampras, opposed to a match against a defensive baseliner like Rafael Nadal."
The officially licensed lawns of Wimbledon make their video game debut in EA's Grand Slam Tennis.
Even if no more characters are announced, the lineup already looks quite impressive, with a nice balance of classic and current ATP stars.
The fact that each character comes with a personalized play style should make it all the more fun to warm up with the computer players whenever friends aren't around for some head-to-head multiplayer.
However, for as great as the roster is looking, the selection of courts and tournaments is looking a little thin.
While it is great that each of the sport's four major tournaments are accounted for (the series-exclusive Wimbledon plus the French, Australian and US Opens), one has to wonder if there will be more courts to choose from in the game than just the four Grand Slams. After all, a rival competing against Grand Slam Tennis, Virtua Tennis 2009, is boasting over 40 courts and locations as exotic as Dubai and Shanghai.
While Grand Slam Tennis does plan to offer standard Wii remote controls that generate a player’s swing based solely on the timing of the hit, the game’s real selling point is the introduction of the Wii MotionPlus controls. The improved motion detection allows the developers to change the amount of variables that are used when calculating the effects of a swing, including not just the player's timing, but also the player’s positioning, his swinging technique (top spin, slice or straight shot), and how hard the remote is being swung.
Wii MotionPlus technology is poised to have a huge impact on how future Wii sports games are played.
With all these variables in play, it is possible that the Wii MotionPlus controls will give gamers more control than ever when it comes to hitting and placing shots.
Modes and Content
For a game that is due out in only a few weeks, it is surprising that so little is known about what kind of features Grand Slam Tennis will ship with.
Based on the game’s current press releases, here is what we do know:
- There will be an online mode with support for four players.
- There will be a career mode with some sort of player progression, and players will attempt to take their created characters on a run through all the Grand Slams.
- There will be a practice mode and some sort of skills challenge so players can hone their strokes.
Unless EA has some major announcements up its sleeve in the next three weeks, this sparse list of features will leave Grand Slam Tennis lagging behind Sega’s Virtua Tennis 2009 in terms of content, especially on the online front -- Sega plans to have a sort of "online tournament" system that’s integrated into the game’s robust and lengthy career mode.
So the question remains: Will EA Canada’s rookie franchise be able to topple the veteran Virtua Tennis series this summer?
We will find out in a couple of weeks when Virtua Tennis 2009 hits the Wii on June 2 and Grand Slam Tennis follows shortly after on June 8.