During the course of this review, I may have legitimately gotten tennis elbow.
Grand Slam Tennis is EA's first foray into tennis games this decade and also one of their first games to make use of Nintendo's latest peripheral, Wii MotionPlus. The presentation and graphical style of the game is nice and vibrant, and doesn't try to be realistic. Basically, it plays to the Wii's strengths and looks good. However, this first entry in what will hopefully become a long-standing series has some issues, mostly stemming from the absurd learning curve associated with its Wii MotionPlus controls.
Aside from the controls, Grand Slam Tennis doesn't really bring anything new to the table. It has a basic career mode, a character creator with an array of clothing and rackets to choose from, a few rule variations that are considered party games, a simple yet solid online mode, and a really strange and out-of-place fitness portion.
However, the biggest part of the game is, without a doubt, the new MotionPlus controls, which are never really explained in the game, aside from random words of wisdom such as "swing gently" or "the control is in the backswing." The only thing resembling a tutorial in the entire game is the ball machine, which just spits balls out at you and tells you what kind of shot you made (slice, lob, etc.). Those familiar with the tennis game in Wii Sports will most likely be completely dumbfounded at first. It looks similar to Wii Sports, but it doesn't really control similarly to that game. It wasn't until someone in our forums showed me a thread on the EA forums that I began to understand how the game was played.
And that's the biggest problem with this game. The actual mechanics of the new controls aren't actually explained in the game or manual. They're hinted at, but there isn't a concrete this-is-how-it's-done tutorial. Once you get past the confusing controls the game improves, but even then it isn't ideal.
There are also alternate control schemes. You can use the Wii Remote by itself in a manner similar to Wii Sports, and you can also add the Nunchuk (with or without MotionPlus) to gain control over movement. The Nunchuk can be difficult to use, though, especially with the MotionPlus controls, because the tether between it and the Wii Remote restricts your movement when swinging the Wii Remote.
Still, there are a lot of hiccups with MotionPlus controls throughout the game. The A.I. positions your player automatically when you don't use the Nunchuk, and oftentimes you'll have to guess on which side of the ball the A.I. will put you as your character runs over to the ball. On numerous occasions my character would go for the more difficult backhand shot while I was preparing for a more straightforward forehand shot. The game is a little lenient with these swings, as your character will hit it, albeit awkwardly and poorly, but a poorly hit ball can really kill you in the heat of the game.
Problems also arise with the game's on-the-fly recalibration of MotionPlus. Whenever the Remote is held still for approximately two seconds, the MotionPlus automatically recalibrates. If you're waiting for your opponent to serve and you have your Wii Remote to the side, this can really screw you up because it'll change where your racket shows up on screen. The game never really tells you that you pretty much have to have your Wii Remote centered and in front of you in between hits if you use MotionPlus.
If you couldn't tell by the title, the career mode takes you through the Grand Slam, which is spread across four different venues (Australian Open, Wimbledon, French Open, and the US Open). You take your custom character through all four tournaments and try to win them. Your character starts off with a zero-star ranking and works his way up to a five-star ranking. There are also special abilities that you can win from different tennis superstars that improve specific parts of your game. For example, if you beat Serena Williams, you earn the ability dubbed "Serena's Forehand," which improves your forehand strength. On the whole, the career mode isn't really anything special as it is quite short.
The online mode is pretty basic, too, only supporting exhibition matches, but the cool thing is that you play for your own country. So, as an American, I can play to boost my own ranking and also work hard for the U.S.A. I noticed a little bit of lag in my experience, but only in a few of the many matches I played.
At the end of the day, Grand Slam Tennis is a decent, but not great, first MotionPlus and tennis effort from EA. It isn't very fun as a pick-up-and-play title because of the steep learning curve. However, if you take your time and read up on the controls online, it can be a great game. I can only really recommend this game to hardcore tennis fans and people who aren't easily frustrated.