Nintendo said spring from the start, but when the curtain fell on E3 last July, it was difficult to imagine going for nearly a year without Wii MotionPlus. Yet here we are, just over 24 hours away from Nintendo's 2009 conference, and we've only had WMP in the office for less than a week - and won't be able to buy it until next Friday. Even Nintendo - never a company to be rushed - usually acts quicker than this.
Whatever the reason for WMP's extended gestation, however, the bigger surprise is that it won't be backed from day one by a Nintendo game. Wii Sports Resort, a collection of mini-games designed to show the new accessory in its best light, just as Wii Sports did with the Wii Remote, is still over a month away, due out on 24th July.
That leaves Electronic Arts and SEGA to fly the flag with the first round of games. Grand Slam Tennis is due out next Friday, with Virtua Tennis 2009 arriving there or thereabouts, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 joining them on 3rd July. Although VT isn't available for review yet, we've been trying out our new WMP with full versions of both of the EA games over the weekend and, ahead of the reviews next week, thought it would be a good idea to jump in with some early impressions.
First though, the Wii MotionPlus set-up procedure, which takes less time to complete than this sentence. Clip it onto the Wiimote expansion port, turn it over and push up the locking switch, and you're done. A passthrough expansion port means you can hook up nunchuks or classic controllers just as you usually would, and you can even thread the strap connector through so it's safe on your wrist.
There's also an extended Wiimote jacket supplied, and overall the Wiimote with WMP attached - at just over an inch longer than otherwise - feels solid and natural within seconds, with WMP light enough not to have any impact on the balance of the controller in your hand. To remove WMP, pull the lock back and then pinch the grey plastic bulges on either side to yank it off. Games don't mind if you do this mid-session, either - Grand Slam and Tiger 10 instantly adjust to a Wiimote-only control scheme so you can continue playing.
Grand Slam makes a bigger show of WMP implementation than Tiger 10, using it to influence shot placement and shot type. Swinging high to low slices the ball, while going low to high adds topspin and a flat swing produces a flat shot. You can also direct the ball yourself, rather than having to rely on timing alone to determine direction as you would in Wii Sports, and have to do in Grand Slam if you're only playing with the Wiimote. Twisting the WMPed-up Wiimote on the followthrough adds even more spin.
The 1:1 mapping of movement is most evident on the practice court (as the game's producer illustrates in a recent demo video), with your character holding the racket high or low in accordance with your movements, and even spinning the racket in his or her hand if you do that, or twiddling it as a bit of a service psyche-out. If you think the game's getting it wrong, you can hold the Wiimote still for a couple of seconds and WMP recalibrates without the need to head out to a menu, although this hasn't been a noticeable problem so far.
So it's all good in theory - but early impressions of Grand Slam's implementation are mixed. There doesn't seem to be much of a problem with speed - WMP is just as alive to your input as we felt it was when we played Wii Sports Resort last July - and the game's shot selection based on the angle of your movements is correct for the majority of the time.
But directing the ball is trickier. In fact, after an hour playing around on the practice court trying to do nothing but direct the ball with WMP, I started to wonder if the unit I'd been sent was broken. At least the option to run around your backhand for a stronger forehand shot generally works - and it's no surprise to find a calories-burnt statistic in the menus given how much moving around EA wants you to do.
Tiger 10's implementation is simpler, and put paid to my grumbles about the sample WMP being broken - it certainly isn't. Clubhead direction is the main thing Tiger 10 looks for, and the on-screen clubhead indicator during your backswing is the most transparent measurement of your actions versus WMP's interpretation that you can find across the two games. Tilt the Wiimote face left or right and the clubhead twists to show how it will strike the ball at an angle. I had literally minutes of fun doing this and just observing how well it worked (check out the embedded shakycam video on this page to get a sense of the latency, which is negligible).
Twisting allows you to add draw and fade manually, rather than having to rely on claw-like multi-button grips and waggles to add depth to your followthrough. Both Grand Slam and Tiger 10 also respond appropriately to the speed of your movements, which is particularly noticeable using Tiger 10's new precision-putting technique. Presumably this is the difference between a tuning fork gyroscope and an accelerometer in action, although, er, don't quote me on that.
What you can easily say after a few hours trying both Grand Slam and Tiger 10 with and without the Wiimote, however, is that both are very promising games, but neither is a fantastic posterchild for Wii MotionPlus. Grand Slam Tennis isn't as intuitive as the abovementioned video claims, although it's certainly a good advanced option to have once you've mastered the (surprisingly deep) main game with the Wiimote alone. Tiger 10, meanwhile, didn't have much to do to improve on Tiger 09, and is cautious and conservative with its sensitive new plastic friend.
After all that waiting, then, one suspects we won't get a real sense of Wii MotionPlus's success or failure until Wii Sports Resort arrives in eight weeks' time. Although it didn't get blanket credit for it when the console launched, Nintendo's implementation of Wiimote controls in Wii Sports was applauded retrospectively for its simplicity - even restraint - and it's easy to imagine that a suite of Nintendo-authored games designed for Wii MotionPlus will attract the same plaudits, given the potential evident in EA's early attempts to take advantage of it.
Grand Slam Tennis is due out with a bundled Wii MotionPlus on 12th June, with Tiger 10 due out on 3rd July and Virtua Tennis 2009 Wii listed for June. Wii Sports Resort, also bundled with WMP, is out on 24th July.