A recent positive experience I had with the Wii exposes a couple of weaknesses in Wii Tennis.
Because they enjoyed playing with our Wii so much, Ann and Greg have purchased their very own Wii. We went over to their house with our Wii remotes to play. It was amazingly fun playing Wii Tennis with four people, 2 against 2. In fact, it was much more fun playing 2 on 2 than it has ever been playing either 1 on 1 or against the computer. I was thinking about why the four person game is more fun and I think the reasons expose some problems with the way the game was designed.
Whenever you play Wii Tennis, you are playing doubles. What this means is: if you are playing 1 on 1 or against the computer, you are controlling two characters (usually two copies of your own Mii) with one remote. I think the decision to always have tennis be doubles was a mistake on the part of the designers of the game. One of the reasons that the Wii is so popular is because of its unique (and innovative) input mechanism. By using the Wii remote, a player is able to interact with the in-game characters in a way that feels like interacting with the real world. Rather than mashing keys on a remote, the player moves an arm to hit the ball in tennis, for example. This more realistic interaction with the game has appealed to many non-gamers and is truly what has made the Wii the phenomenon it has become. But the decision to have a single remote control multiple characters in the tennis game means that we lose some of the realism of the interaction. When a player moves an arm to hit the ball, two characters in the game swing their rackets, which is a little disconcerting. It would feel more realistic and be more engaging (and more fun) to be able to play singles if you are playing against only one other player or against the computer. Then your one remote would control a single character within the game.
Of course, I understand why the designers made this choice. Within Wii Tennis, there is no way to control where your character moves. The only thing you can control is when the racket is swung and at what angle. The movement of the characters is controlled by the game itself. By allowing a single remote to control two characters, the game then only needs to control horizontal movement of the characters (they move left and right depending on where the ball is) and does not need to control vertical (forward and back) movement of the characters. Instead, one character plays the front and the other plays the back. This, however, is another weakness of the game. Because you can’t control the movement of your character, there are some shots that are impossible to defend against. For example, Greg has perfected a shot off a serve to his forehand. If the serve is a regular serve (that is, not one of the ones that is really fast), Greg will return it with a cross-court shot in a spot where the front character cannot get to it and the back character (whose left and right movement is controlled by the game) does not start moving fast enough to be able to return the shot. So as a player, there is nothing you can do to return this shot. You’re inhibited by the limitations of the game implementation.
This second weakness concerning the lack of control of the movement of the in-game characters exists when you play 2 on 2 with a separate remote controlling each of the four characters in the game. But the first weakness is not there so that it feels like a more natural interaction with the game, even if other flaws exist. I think this is a lesson for how to design engaging games. The more realistic the interaction, the more closely the in-game characterization represents the real world, the more engaging (and the more fun) the game is.