Virtua Tennis 2009
Being English, to me tennis comprises of two weeks in June with lots of strawberries & cream, Pimm’s and rain. Like many I find myself itching to go out and play, but a mixture of being useless and lazy in equal measures mean I stay indoors. Of course technology is my friend and I can play all the tennis I want without leaving the comfort of my chair. That’s how it used to be; Nintendo’s little white box is becoming well known as the home of tennis. Arguably the best platform to enjoy it on, the console asks you to get out of your comfy chair and swing your arms like a man swatting a fly. With the release of the Wii MotionPlus we’ve seen a whole new depth to the hardware; plugging into the bottom of the Wii Remote, the latest peripheral offers an increased range in movements and subtle gestures, perfect for a game like tennis.
It’s no coincidence that two of the first titles to use the kit are tennis games; Grand Slam Tennis and Virtua Tennis 2009. You’re probably already familiar with Virtua Tennis; a veteran of both the arcade and console markets, the series is now in its second decade, but this is its first outing on the Wii.
The new hardware makes an impressive debut and seemingly lives up to its credentials. Striking shots is for the most part intuitive and it manages to detect the variety of shots fairly well. There were times when the ball went off in the wrong direction and the correct shots weren’t performed, but for the most, did its job amicably. For those who don’t have the new add-on there is an option to play without and instead the game is controlled with a mixture of button pressing and timing swings against an on-screen slider; it’s not quite as involving but still feels more like you’re playing tennis than with a traditional controller. If hitting the ball and moving the player seems like too much of a hardship you can opt to play without the Nunchuk, this allows the AI to take over positioning duties much like in Wii Sports’ version of the game.
If you’ve experienced any of the other Virtua Tennis 2009 titles on other platforms you’ll be pleased to hear that the game makes the transition onto the Wii remarkably well. All game modes, professional players, features and other content are present with only a few casualties, mainly the graphics. On court, they hold up well and never distract. Sadly the same cannot be said for when the camera gets close up, especially the created players, who bear more resemblance to papier-mâché masks than people.
The actual gameplay is hugely satisfying. Manipulating your opponent to run from side to side, battering them with a variety of shots is an utter joy, whilst taking on the tougher opponents is a completely different challenge; dealing with power shots and immaculately placed balls feels like you’re on centre court at Wimbledon yourself. However there are times when the illusion is broken, such as poorly positioned AI.
World Tour is the game’s main feature. Players are asked to create a Pro from scratch using the game’s rather comprehensive creation tools, editing everything from cheek structure to posture. Once completed you’ll be invited to play practice matches which once finished allow you to partner with that opponent in doubles matches later on in the season. There’s also a wealth of mini games from Shopping Dash to Pirate Wars and a Tennis Academy hosted by ‘Tiger’ Tim Henman. All of these add points to one of the three key areas of ground strokes, footwork and serves and volleys. Improving in these areas specialises your player to a certain playing style.
Tournaments are the bread and butter of the season; initially starting against easier, low ranked players, winning tournaments doesn’t improve your stats but they do improve your ranking enabling you to play in tougher tournaments against higher ranked players. As an extra reward, finishing well improves your prize money to spend in the Tennis Store. Items available range from clothing that offer cosmetic changes, to rackets offering varying power, angle and control attributes. Throw in court passes which unlock courts and there’s more than enough for any shopaholic.
If you don’t know your tennis racket from your tennis elbow then Henman is also standing by to be your coach. Starting off simple before progressing onto the more advanced shots players can spend time perfecting their repertoire. Initially the three stage description for each shot is fine, but later on it doesn’t go into enough depth and I found myself resorting to trial and error, making the whole process pointless.
Providing your room is big enough to cope with the overzealous arm waving of your nearest and dearest, then you can play with up to four other people. Alternatively, you can choose to go online and take on the world, or at least that’s the theory, as after several hours of trying to find a game as well as numerous attempts at setting up my own lobby I failed to find a single match.
Virtua Tennis 2009 is probably the best tennis game on the Wii. With a selection of real life tennis stars, a wealth of courts and a good core gameplay, there’s enough on offer to see it being played well after the tennis season is over. The academy and mini games break up any monotony which playing in tournaments might create and most importantly the game is just as enjoyable with or without the Wii MotionPlus. Bar the dead online community and a few small quibbles it’s as good as playing the real thing.