The UK is currently in the grip of an unseasonably warm spell possibly caused by the Centre Court at Wimbledon now being rain-proof. The country is equally in the grip of an annual fever of MurrayMania as the All England Tennis Club tournament wends its way to its thrilling conclusion this coming weekend.
But the warm spell and the fact that there is still a Brit competitor in the tournament means that interest in tennis has not been higher since 1977 when Virginia waded†
in and won the Ladies Championships. Of course, back then all she won was her bus fare home and night off from the cooking but nowadays things are much more enlightened, and both men and women stand to win a king's ransom for lifting the silverware - £850,000 - up 13.3% from last year despite these recessionary times.
As all our thoughts turn to tennis, there's no point trying to book a court down the local park, they are all full and will be well into next Tuesday afternoon (after which all this tennis palava will be forgotten for another year). So, if you are dying to smack some balls around, you better look to your console. The problem is, if you have a 360 or a PS3, the tennis experience is a bit.. well, sedentary. Sat on your ass waggling a joystick, you might as well be playing inFamous
If you are a Wii owner, though, you are currently spoiled for choice with both Sega and EA Sports having recently released games cunningly timed to coincide with the UK's annual 16-day tennis love affair... and not at the rest of the world at all.
From EA Sports, there's Grand Slam Tennis
. From Sega, Virtua Tennis 2009
. And the fact is that armed with a Wii and either of these games, it's possible to get sweaty and have fun at the same time. But let's be clear, in the current temperatures, it's possible for a Brit to get sweaty simply inserting the disc into the drive - neither game actually requires you to closely emulate the kind of athleticism the Centre Court is seeing this week. A limp-wristed flick at the appropriate moment is enough to make either game perform a passable shot.
Now that we have the Wii Motion Plus - Tennis games should be a rewarding experience, and we should be able to expect to place the ball with reasonable accuracy. But the fact was that whether we used the Motion Plus or not seemed to make no noticeable impact on our play in either game.
Grand Slam Tennis
Both games have their charms, but both differ enough that you'd be well advised to play them before deciding which to buy. Virtua Tennis
is more of a sim, the players are more 'life like' and they seem to move more fluidly. But the control method, while clever, is less intuitive. When you are in the zone to take a shot, a bar appears and a cursor moves across it from one side to the other. Take the shot while the cursor is at the very left of the bar and the ball will land at the very left of the court - but in play. Take your shot while the cursor is out of the bar, and the shot will land out of the court.
It sounds straightforward and clever, and it is certainly the latter. But as the bar appears at what feels like random times, and the cursor travels very quickly across it, putting shots at the tramlines can be extremely tricky. There is also no easy way to control power and spin. I went to Tennis Academy to learn these things, but while it demanded of me that I demonstrate my ability to win a point using slice shots, it didn't tell me how to make a slice shot. The obvious tactic of moving my hand downwards at the point of contact with the ball did not seem to work consistently, which made the game seem annoyingly random.
But Virtua Tennis
's main fault - the inexcusable one - is that the local two-player mode does not split the screen, so one player is at the other end of the court, small, and reversed. That is bad enough, but if the player chooses to go to the right side of the service court, they are hidden from view behind the score on screen - madness!
Grand Slam Tennis
Grand Slam Tennis
has more cartoony characters - still based on a selection of real-life players. Their travel around the court seems a little less fluid. But making shots, while more like good old Wii Sports Tennis
, is somehow more intuitive. The direction of your hand when the ball was struck and the timing of the shot determine the direction and spin of the ball. Again, power is hit and miss, and most balls fall within the baseline as a seemingly default setting. But Grand Slam
makes the (good from our perspective) decision of making local two-player mode split screen, and for us, that makes it a winner over Virtua
in a close tie-breaker.
Neither of these games can really be called a sim. But both are rewarding in their own way. Virtua
feels like it should be the better game, the more accurate recreation of tennis. But the faults prevent it from being the rewarding experience it should be, and the display problems seal its fate. Grand Slam
is much more like a revved up version of Wii Sports Tennis
and as a result it shares that games easy-going characteristics. It's simple to pick up and fun to play. And that's what games should be.
†Virginia Wade was the last Brit to win Wimbledon - it happened in 1977 - Young Mark