Motion Tennis hands-on: iPhone + Apple TV = Wii-style gaming

Taking clever advantage of the Apple TV's mirroring capabilities, this tennis game turns your iPhone into a Wii-like controller.

Game. Set. Match. Motion Tennis offers a unique experience for the iPhone/iPod Touch and Apple TV.
Game. Set. Match. Motion Tennis offers a unique experience for the iPhone or iPod Touch and Apple TV. Rolocule Games

Has the Wii era come to an end? If Wii U sales are any indication, America's love affair with the popular game console looks to have petered out.

But that hasn't stopped Rolocule Games from borrowing the Wii concept for an intriguing iPhone game: Motion Tennis ($7.99). Forget flicking tiny onscreen players; Motion Tennis pairs with your living-room TV by way of your Apple TV, which is required to play the game. And in true Wii style, your iPhone becomes the controller.

See, late-model iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches can mirror their displays via an Apple TV, which is a neat way to play games on a big screen. However, those games are typically pillar-boxed (displayed with black bars on either side), and most require you to interact at least somewhat with your touch screen, thus diverting your attention away from the action on the TV.

Motion Tennis plays edge-to-edge, and once you start a match, you don't have to touch your iDevice again unless you want to pause or access the menus. You do, however, have to swing it, racket-style, to score points against onscreen opponents. It's basically an iPhone-powered Wii Tennis, but with a more grown-up feel.

I played the game using my iPhone 4S and a second-gen Apple TV. (Be sure to check the system requirements, because it works only with devices that support AirPlay mirroring -- iPads included, but I don't think you'd want to swing one around your living room.) My experience was about as mixed as a game of, well, mixed doubles.

Motion Tennis delivers nice-looking graphics and smooth gameplay, though occasional lag between my iPhone and Apple TV caused me to lose points.

There are three kinds of shots you can make: standard, slice, and lob, each depending on how you angle the iPhone as you swing you arm. But as with Wii Tennis, it's not long before you figure out the cheats: a mere flick of the wrist accomplishes the same thing as an arm swing, and backhand shots are registered even if you swing forehand. Such are the limitations of accelerometer-powered games.

The app supports singles, team doubles (with two connected iDevices), and a survival mode that challenges you to win as many consecutive points as possible.

As a lifelong tennis player and fan, I must admit to finding Motion Tennis rather boring. After the novelty wore off, which took about 10 minutes, I found myself irritated by the iffy shot accuracy and the lack of a head-to-head multiplayer mode. As with most sports games, playing against AI opponents gets old very quickly.

That said, Rolocule deserves kudos for bringing something unique to the iPhone and Apple TV gaming experience. Here's hoping the developer will follow up with Motion Bowling and Motion Baseball, games I think might be better suited to this kind of interaction.

 

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