With the footy season racing towards a climactic finale and the first shoots of spring poking out of the frosty soil like a puppy peeking through a letterbox, it won't be long before we're dusting off grandpa's old wooden tennis racket and golf clubs and heading out to thwack a few balls around (badly), then retreating home to nurse chapped hands and tennis elbow. This year, however, we're going to have a couple of home-based alternatives to choose from thanks to EA's Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 and the publisher's first foray into the world of Henman Hill, Grand Slam Tennis. With both games employing MotionPlus for extra control, we could be in for the most realistic sporting experiences ever witnessed on Wii.
First up is Grand Slam Tennis. Featuring all the Grand Slams replete with faithfully recreated courts and a wealth of pros both current (e.g. Federer) and legendary (e.g. Sampras), Grand Slam Tennis attempts to faithfully emulate its real-life counterpart while remaining accessible to everyone. Courts and players have received the now-obligatory Wii cartoon-style makeover, with courts considerably narrower than in real life and players more squat than the finely tuned athletes they're based on. Each pro has been lovingly recreated and possesses many of the mannerisms of his or her real-world counterpart, such as Nadal yanking his pants out of his arse crack and pumping his fist victoriously. [Is this right? - Ed]
While the presentation may be looking solid, the true test comes on court, and in this department, Grand Slam Tennis teems with promise. Using the new MotionPlus mode the action is certainly realistic. With the Wiimote representing your racket you must accurately time shots to make the best possible connection with the ball. Swing too early or late and the shot is weak or misplaced, while missing the ball is all too easy if you flap the Wiimote like you're trying to swat a pigeon that's mistaken your head for a giant breadcrumb.
The key innovation here is the ability to rotate the Wiimote in order to pull off different shot types. Twist the controller forward and you'll apply topspin, while rotating backwards enables you to slice. Keeping the remote central executes a flat shot. The strength with which you swing and how far you pull the controller sideways also influences the flight of the ball, allowing you to genuinely aim for the court's corners and pull your opponent out of position. With your thumb over the A button and your index finger poised above B, you can further mix up your shot types, with A allowing you to lob and B executing a drop-shot. Your player's movements are either automatically controlled or, if you're feeling brave, there's an option to navigate your player with the nunchuk control stick. And for advanced players, the d-pad can be used to rush the net - a particularly useful trick on grass.
While Grand Slam may be EA's first flirtation with tennis, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 is the latest instalment of a series that's been running for a decade, but only in very recent years has the franchise begun displaying the true potential provided by the Wii remote.
After last year's version saw a number of advancements both in terms of accessibility and club control, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 has borrowed many of the concepts from its predecessor and attempted to take them to the next level. After a couple of rounds with the latest code the portents are encouraging, with the added sensitivity of MotionPlus providing an unprecedented level of control. It's not quite (virtually) 1:1 as EA is claiming, but it's certainly as close as any game has yet come to providing realistic reactions from virtual sports equipment. By twisting the remote you can now draw or fade your shot, while the power with which you swing influences shot distances far more than last year.
Putting is another area that's been revamped. Whereas previously, sinking the ball from fifty yards often seemed easier than putting from directly in front of the flag, a new system now incorporates both forward and backswing momentum, which, coupled with MotionPlus, increases putting sensitivity and results in more challenging and satisfying putts. Last year's All-Play mode, which proved so successful at allowing novices to take on seasoned players, reprises its role here, with newcomers able to see exactly where their shots will land, while the game's more forgiving swing system should hopefully prevent beginners from hooking their shots into the rough on a regular basis.
Other innovations include the addition of dynamic weather effects, with rain and wind influencing the ball's flight and bounce, while courses are looking far more populated with spectators (numbers will depend on the importance of each tournament) who coo, whoop, groan and cheer in relation to the quality of your play. When facing pressure shots or when an accurate drive is headed directly for the hole, a pounding heartbeat effect swells from the speakers to add extra tension. With a host of other pro players other than Tiger set to feature, and a new Tournament mode that'll allow you and up to three friends to play simultaneously online (EA has promised us more information on both in April), Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 could just be the best Wii golf game to date.
Both Grand Slam Tennis and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 are certainly showing ample potential. With increased levels of control thanks to MotionPlus, hardcore sports fans could be about to sample simulated sporting experiences that actually utilise real life techniques, while features such as All-Play are likely to ensure that both games are as widely accessible as they are entertaining. So long as EA doesn't balls it up at the final hurdle, this summer we could be in for hours of sporting entertainment without having to suffer the indignity of digging up our archaic sporting equipment and embarrassing ourselves in public.
Grand Slam Tennis is due out for Wii in June, while Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 has yet to have a release date set. It usually comes out in August.