Tennis at its best, complete with singles, doubles, mini games and online rankings.
The Virtua Tennis franchise has delivered fun, enjoyable and good looking video game tennis experiences since the first Virtua Tennis game was released in the arcades back in 1999. Virtua Tennis 2009 for the Wii is one of the first games released that supports Nintendo's motion sensing device "Wii Motion Plus", and it is widely considered that the two go closely hand in hand.
The Virtua Tennis games has always gone a certain length to simulate a real tennis game in that it features very realistic animations on both the characters and the tennis ball. Virtua Tennis 2009 is of course no exception – this game is as close you can get to a tennis simulator on a home console, and the motion sensing features of the Wii does a great deal to uplift that aspect of the game to a whole new level.
Virtua Tennis 2009 offers a few different game modes, and you can adjust the game rules to basically all of the game modes to some extent – for example you could adjust AI difficulty or number of games to play. The different game modes you can play are; the Arcade mode, which is a short tournament of sorts, Exhibitions matches in either singles or doubles modes (supporting up to four players simultaneously), local tournaments and mini games for up to two players.
The main feature of the game however, is the World Tour mode in which you create your own character, and travel around the world on various events, training sessions and championship matches. You can also play online with the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection with either friends or random people from around the world. Your records and medals will be displayed in a special room that is available right from the main menu. On top of this, there's a coach mode that basically works as a long tutorial mode in which you can practice your aim and the different swings you can perform.
The controls in this game is perhaps what sets it apart the most from other tennis games as it really tries to translate your swings with the Wii Remote to believable actions on the screen – and with the Wii Motion Plus it does a great job at just that. You can play the game using either a single Wii Remote, or the Wii Motion Plus. Rather than simply holding the Wii Remote as you would a TV remote, you are prompted to hold the Wii Remote so that its backside is facing the palm of your hand, and that your index finger is resting above the B button. This will have a major significance when using the Wii Motion Plus to aim shots across the court.
In the Remote only setup your character does move around on the court automatically, but you can steer him freely with the D-pad of the Wii Remote. Playing this way does provoke some issues because you can't really reach the D-pad while holding the Wii Remote as instructed by the game – it would require you to switch between two ways to grip the controller.
If you use a Nunchuk however, it will allow you to manually control your player's footwork with your other hand. This is obviously the best way to play as it gives you the most control.
Aiming shots with the Wii Motion Plus comes naturally but it really requires you to hold the Wii Remote in the correct way. Performing the different swings is also easy most of the time, once you become mindful of how you swing and how you are holding the controller. There's always a risk that you lose the correct grip in the heat of the action and if you're not aware of the inner workings of the controller scheme you'll probably see that your swing didn't turn out as intended. Some of the more advanced swings such as the forehand slice and backhand slice shots doesn't seem to register as easily as the other swings, and drop shots also tends to be somewhat erratic but given some practice you should have no problems to adapt to them as well. Other than just perfecting your swings, you also need to pay attention to how you time your swings - the time frame in which you must do that swing is narrow but never unfair. Also, to perform lob shots you must hold the A button while doing the swing, so you aren't entirely freed from pressing buttons.
If you do not wish to use the Wii Motion Plus you can still swing away with your regular Wii Remote. In that case you'll see a gauge above your character's head when he readies a swing – the direction the ball will take is then depending on where the indicator is located on the gauge when you swing. Playing this way is also very playable and proves that Virtua Tennis 2009 can do just fine without the Wii Motion Plus.
The game does not support other controllers like the Classic Controller or the Game Cube Controller. Seeing that other Virtua Tennis games are controlled with regular controllers it makes little to no sense to omit this option just because motion sensing controls are available – especially given the fact that your arm grows tired from swinging the Wii Remote.
The controls in Virtua Tennis 2009 are almost perfect, despite its minor issues – the biggest annoyance however, is that your character can take forever to recover from a running animation. This means that even if you foresee an opponents actions from miles ahead, you still can't return his shots because your character is too slow about making turns and sprints on the court. This is something you must learn to take into consideration the hard way, but even so – it doesn't feel like your character is doing his best to win game. Sure enough the game aims to have realistic character movement, but they could have more forgiving controls and still have a great game.
The World Tour mode allows you to create and save up to four different characters. In this mode you basically start your character from zero, training your way up to the top spots of the world tour. You're basically given a calendar and a world map. The world map shows different locations of interest such as rivals, partners, tennis events and competitions that you can attend and the calendar shows upcoming events that might interest you.
You can at anytime partake in special challenges and training sessions with the coach Tim Henman, and spend your hard earned cash in the tennis shop buying new gear that will increase your performance and thus help you win matches. All these activities will gradually build up your character's skills and abilites.
Within the World Tour you'll also have access to the Online HQ where you'll find ranked matches online and the SPT online tour. You'll see your current position and score, and the game will match you up with other contenders that are equal to your rank.
For every game you play, you'll lose some stamina and build up your groundstrokes, footwork and serve & volley stat bars, which represents your training skill. To recover stamina you need to either rest in your home, go on a vacation or buy energy drinks. Planning your resting and practicing sessions is crucial because you don't want to miss out on important events and opportunities that are booked in your calendar.
All in all, the World Tour mode pretty much has you covered when it comes to character development and tennis tournaments and it is sure to gratify even the most picky video game tennis players.
The online components are very straight forward and easy to get into. It may take a while to find a matching opponent, but when it happens it works pretty solid and it makes the game so much more exciting – we have only encountered minor lag issues during online games and that's nothing that would ruin a game for you. As noted above your ranked matches, stats and records will be saved automatically to your profile.
The mini games have become something of a classic component to the Virtua Tennis franchise. Thus the developers have included twelve different mini games. In one of them you'll see an zoo animal at the other end of the court and you'll see different types of food being launched at you. You must then hit the food so that they reach the animal, giving you points for each fruit it eats. Another mini game will place you in front of a wall of bricks which you can eliminate by hitting them with your ball, scoring points for each section of bricks you eliminate. All in all the mini games work as a comic relief for all the sweaty tennis action and they are quite fun to play around with especially if you're competing for the top scores with someone.
Virtua Tennis 2009 sure does have lots of content for you to explore, and there are plenty of unlockable bonuses. There are 23 playable players, each with their own strengths and weaknesses and there are around 40 different courts for you to play in. The Tennis Shop in the World Tour mode has hundreds of rackets, clothes and items. Either way to put it the replay value is really good.
The loading times are pretty quick, but there are many loading screens scattered throughout the whole experience which can chop it up somewhat. This is especially noticeable in the coaching sessions where your goal is only to perform a swing three times, and that's where you end up watching loading screens rather than playing or learning how to play the game.
Whenever you're using the Wii Motion Plus you're prompted to point at your player before every single serve that happens in the game. This feels very redundant at first, but it's actually a nice way to ensure that everyone partaking in the game is ready for the serve and good to go.
The sound and music of this game is quite unsatisfying. The most notable drawback is that the players on the court will make grunts and noises – and no matter how far away they are from the camera their grunts will still be heard exactly the same as if they had microphones. The other sounds like the menus, ball whacks and audience sounds all right though.
Furthermore they chose to have punk rock music in the game during matches. The music in itself is decent and even catchy at times, but it doesn't exactly go well with a tennis match. The music changes when you reach the match point to further increase the tension which is a nice change of pace. It should also be noted that the punk rock music is toned down during the tournament matches, and the silence that follows creates a nice "serious" TV-like atmosphere to the game.
Visually Virtua Tennis 2009 has both its ups and downs. The animations, characters and courts all look great, but the Wii has problems keeping the game run smoothly – the frame rate issues aren't severe enough to disrupt the gameplay, but it's enough to look awkward. Most of this happens during cut scenes and camera pans where you see the audience, making you wonder if they couldn't tone down the detail of the backgrounds a little to help the game run more smoothly. Other than that, the game has many neat details and the various courts all have their own look and feel to them. The character models aren't the most advanced 3D models you'll see, but they get the job done for sure.
With its four player doubles matches, World Tour mode and online tournaments this game makes tennis a worthwhile pastime. Every game has its flaws, but in Virtua Tennis 2009 they're out done by the whole experience in itself. The Wii Motion Plus is a novelty in its own right. It works really good here and the accuracy of the swings you perform might surprise you positively – this is truly unlike anything you've played on a home console before.