We're used to a certain amount of fanfare when it comes to new EA Sports games. That's the power of its PR machine. Faced with the lung-busting force of EA Sports' marketing oomph, even the Walls of Jericho would be blown away like dust. And then they'd canvas opinion of those nearby to find out how to do it better next time.
This time EA Sports has more reason than usual to parp its own trumpet. One, most importantly, Grand Slam Tennis itself is worth shouting about. Two, a gaping hole in the tennis genre has been filled. Three, EA Sports, not Nintendo, is leading the Wii MotionPlus charge - significant in that Nintendo is entrusting the keys to its latest innovation to a third-party developer (at least for a while until Wii Sports Resort hits the shelves). That's sort of like lending your shiny new Ferrari to your mate.
The timing is perfect. 22 June sees Wimbledon begin and Grand Slam Tennis is the first tennis game to feature an official version of the championship. Understandably that has generated quite a buzz in the run-up to its release. In other tennis games we've had to squint a bit to make the screen go fuzzy and appear Wimbledonish, so to have the proper purple and green crossed racquets seal appearing over a proper rendition of Centre Court with players in proper regulation Wimbledon whites makes a world of difference to the atmosphere.
Think about unlicensed football games next to EA Sports' FIFA series and you remember putting up with the Red Cauldron stadium and its renowned tenants, Merseyside Red. It's the same deal here. Having the most recognisable tournament accurately represented is a big plus.
If Wimbledon looks the part, then it sounds the part too. Pat Cash, he of legendary mullet and 1987's Wimbledon winner's dish, provides familiar commentary while the "Oohs!" and "Ahhs!" are recorded from last year's Grand Slam events. And once you've got used to the silly big tennis balls (which aren't any easier to hit despite their size) and the caricatured players, Grand Slam Tennis is a visually attractive thing, in its own way, the light-hearted, balloon-headed player models neatly summing up the askew approach EA Sports has taken to the tennis genre.
Rather than take on the more established Virtua Tennis series directly with a slavishly realistic portrayal of the sport, Grand Slam Tennis presents an outwardly light hearted alternative, ditching the usual rhythm-based mechanic with one that, thanks to Wii MotionPlus, concentrates much more on shot selection and the positioning of your racquet than being in the right place at the right time. The fun cartoony presentation shouldn't obscure the fact that underneath lies a dynamic, exciting game. Even without the Wii MotionPlus adaptor attached, this is a satisfyingly subtle and strategic affair.
Click the attachment into place at the base of the Remote and the whole thing is shifted up a level. The game recognises it automatically and after a couple of seconds holding the Remote still for it to sync up, the effect is immediately obvious.
In fact, to start with it's a little off-putting as the increased sensitivity to what you're doing with the Wii Remote is totally disorientating. Suddenly your shots are thumping into the net and bouncing way over the tramlines, and to add to the confusion your player is often facing the wrong way thanks to the slightest flick of the Remote in the wrong direction. You serve too weakly, or too long, or miss the ball entirely.