Major thanks to The Golf Club at Chelsea Piers for letting us test this out at their facilities, and to golf pros Herb and Marj for letting us waste some of their valuable time.
Wii MotionPlus hands-onSee all photos
Outside automatic system software updates included with both games (to add the MotionPlus support, presumably) there was nothing we had to do on the software side to activate or implement the add-on, which in a way was almost disconcerting. The games didn't offer much info as to whether we were using a MotionPlus-enhanced control setup or not. A few screens mentioned added features with use of the MotionPlus, but seemed unaware that ours was plugged in, and Grand Slam Tennis didn't blink an eye when we unplugged MotionPlus and went without.
Despite all this simplicity, there's a three minute instructional video included with the games for helping figure out how to plug in the MotionPlus, which taught us absolutely nothing and yet proved unskippable once started. One thing it mentioned was placing the Wiimote face down to reorient the controller in case it got out of step, but we never had occasion to do so -- it worked flawlessly through our testing.
Not as much could be said for our muscles, however, which were sorer than usual from the relatively mundane movements. The additional weight of the MotionPlus and the hugemongous protective cover (we never sent away for ones for our original collection of Wiimotes) really wore on us after a while, at least in the rapid back and forth motions of tennis.
Grand Slam Tennis
Grand Slam Tennis
The first game we tried was Grand Slam Tennis, and we'll just say it: we don't get it. That is to say, we don't get why this really needs MotionPlus, at least for relatively casual players like us. See, while MotionPlus does seem to do some work with helping the controller stay oriented and perform precisely measured skill shots, its implementation in the game is pretty much limited to that. So a player who invests 10 hours or so in practice and actually likes the deep strategy and complexity of tennis will probably find MotionPlus a definite addition to the existing Wiimote setup, but most people who just pick up and play won't even be able to tell the difference.
We'd say the big problem -- and not a small problem for game developers, to be sure -- is the fact that true 1-to-1 tennis gameplay would be a major undertaking to simulate. So they don't. On occasion the system seemed to pick up our random Wiimote stylings and reflect them in our onscreen character when the ball wasn't on his side of the court, but when it comes to hitting the tennis ball the game is just picking up predefined strokes. What the MotionPlus adds is better sense of the exact hitting angle, which makes for better ball placement in advance modes, but provides quite a considerable learning curve. As demonstrated in the video, at one point we resorted to a mere one dimensional "waggle," which resulted in wild skips and jumps of our Nadal avatar, who managed to pick up tennis balls on either side of him, jumping as far as six feet or so away from just a tiny flick of ours.
While appropriate Wiimote twisting applies topspin and backspin, drop and lob shots require respective button presses that shatter any other illusions we might've had about MotionPlus turning this game into some sort of true tennis simulator. We also found it incredibly frustrating how much of a delay there was at times between our swings and the actually onscreen swing, especially during our serves. The good news is that folks who feared the MotionPlus would usher in an era of physically taxing 1-to-1 gameplay (like real sports) don't have to worry about this game outside the added heft it brings to their existing flicks.
Luckily, the game isn't sold bundled with MotionPlus in the States (it is in Europe, but that's what those suckers get for living in Europe), so if you're still interested in a decent tennis game without the added "work" of MotionPlus, that's always an option.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10
EA has pre-packaged Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 with the MotionPlus add-on, and for good reason: it works. Where its implementation in Grand Slam Tennis didn't bring us any closer to the "real" game of tennis, its addition to Tiger Woods' little cash cow really does bring us to a closer approximation of golf from the comfort of our living room.
To be frank, we're not really big golfing junkies. We found its implementation in Wii Sports to be tantalizing but ultimately frustrating, and all of our "real life" run-ins with khaki pants and well-manicured greens have all ended up with us in a near homicidal state. Where Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 could change all that (or at least has a shot) is the great consistency and accuracy of the controls. It takes the blame game out of golfing (my clubs, this Wiimote, that sensor bar, your face), proving once and for all that we just suck at it.
While there are naturally still the video game-style enhancements to the game of golf (like power meters and detailed info-graphics), the actual swings are actually being simulated at a level of detail never available on a home console before. Based on the twist of your hands, the range of the swing and the speed of the stroke you control fade, draw and power. The main thing still left up to the virtual realm is topspin and backspin, which would naturally be horribly difficult to simulate with a handheld controller.
The downside of all this is that we're not incredibly great at the game yet. Straight drives aren't super hard, but our short game is miserable and our putting could use some work. What's nice is that we really do feel the difference between a shot with 40 percent power and a shot with 80 percent power, and the slight struggle to keep our shots straight is a gentle reminder of how impossible it is to do so in real life. Putting required a bit more "oomph" than should be necessary, but it still felt pretty "real" -- certainly a long ways away from the frustratingly glitchy implementation in Wii Sports.
Tiger Woods disc golf
We'd be remiss if we ended this review without mentioning the disc golf mini game in Tiger Woods. Not only because it's a fun little bonus to an already feature-packed game, but because it's actually the most impressive technical demonstration of MotionPlus available at the moment, even if the actual gameplay falls a bit short.
If you were wondering if your MotionPlus add-on worked, just fire this puppy up. The first time you pick up a disc you're playing with it in 3D space in almost perfect 1-to-1 motion. You can twist and bend a flick and the on screen hand and disc track your motion perfectly.
Unfortunately, that's perhaps the most fun to be had here. The game allows for a few different throws and is fairly sensitive to angle and release point, but unfortunately the differentiation between a good flick for 100 percent power and a (what we supposed would be) powerful full body throw for 60 percent power is hard to track down. It was particularly frustrating for those among us who were actually good at throwing frisbees in real life. The disc also just doesn't hang in the air "right," which cut away some of the strategy and realism of disc golf.
That's not to say the game can't be learned or even enjoyed, and we'd certainly say it has an advantage over the regular golf game as far as instant accessibility, but we found ourselves a little frustrated by the overall mechanics -- and our elbows weren't thanking us for all those mis-judged phantom snaps.
Wrap-upOverall, we'd say EA has provided a mere glimpse at the possibilities of MotionPlus with these two games. If you're inclined to play virtual tennis or golf, these two games are probably the best two physical simulators of those particular activities available for the home at a reasonable cost, but outside of that (or some strange fascination with disc golf) there's no "must have" experience to be found here.
That said, MotionPlus does serve in both of these games to deepen the experience. From our perspective, that added depth added complexity and potential frustration to Grand Slam Tennis, while it deepened the Tiger Woods gameplay without actually adding complexity. The difference between the two probably amounts to the pacing. In Tiger Woods you can preview the draw and fade and power of your swing, in Tennis you just have to go on intuition -- your only visual cues are colored motion trails for topspin and backspin, and of course where the ball lands on your opponent's court. The problem is that the game is learning more about your swing, and therefore can add deeper simulation, but since it's not giving back enough visual feedback, or acting in a 1-to-1 manner (which of course would be a little dangerous in a living room if actually implemented) it's hard tell exactly what you're doing.
The $20 cost per MotionPlus isn't horrible, and you don't really need to buy extras for golf, but it'd be a major stretch to spend $80 on add-ons for four player tennis. We'd say at least wait for Wii Sports Resort with its own bundled MotionPlus, since we have a feeling that like most things Wii, the first party experience will be the one to beat. We've also come away a bit more excited for the upcoming motion controls of the Xbox 360 and PS3, since it's clear that controller technology only gets you so far: you need graphics, physics and gameplay to make up the rest of an effectively immersive and (most importantly) entertaining experience.