I’ve always preferred playing badminton to tennis, because the shuttlecock is so forgiving of my ineptitude in competitive sports. However, despite not being able to hit a tennis ball in real life, I’m reasonably competent at doing so in the world of Virtua Tennis. Of course, that’s because it usually involves using my thumbs to push control sticks and press buttons, thus minimising the need for any great feats of physical co-ordination.
Virtua Tennis 2009 for the Wii, though, is an entirely different prospect to other versions of the game. Requiring the player to hold the Wii Remote like a racquet, it involves various types of swinging arm movements that emulate the motions one might make in a real game of tennis. That includes swinging up and then down to perform a serve, and tilting the Remote slightly to do slice shots.
Considering how useless I am at racquet sports, this control method made me slightly apprehensive. On one hand, if the developer got it right, it could allow for a greater degree of control and immersiveness than normal, but on the other, it might be too difficult to be fun.
My initial impression, unfortunately, was the latter. Even with an on-screen guide telling me when to swing, more than often I would swing the racquet and hit nothing but air. With practice, this improved slightly, but I was still unable to beat even the worst of opponents. The realism was faultless, then, but it was hardly fun. Things can be made easier by allowing the computer to make your player automatically run towards the ball, but I still longed for Classic Controller support, so my thumbs could succeed where the rest of my body so spectacularly failed.
If, like me, the standard control scheme isn’t working for you, then you’ll be glad to know that Virtua Tennis 2009 includes support for the new MotionPlus add-on. Using this piece of equipment, the player is able to make more precise movements, which allows for more control. Of course, this had the potential to even further expose my racqet-based shortcomings, but I was pleasantly surprised how much easier it made the game. My serves were more accurate (I even delivered a few aces), drop shots were easier, and performing cross-court shots felt far more natural than it did previously.
Providing you use the MotionPlus controller, Virtua Tennis 2009 is a fun new addition to the series, coming with all the usual bonus games and buyable items. Without it, you might still be able to succeed and enjoy the game, but it seems just as likely you’ll end up throwing your racqet/Wii Remote down in frustration, as the 99th ranked player in the world puts another ace past you.
However, the worst flaw is a very simple mistake, but it’s also highly irritating. Before every single match, the player has to select whether to use the MotionPlus controller or not, as well as which hand they’re using. Surely it wouldn’t be difficult for the game to default to the last setting you used.
With a little more work, Virtua Tennis could have been truly excellent, but for now it will have to settle for being quite. Personified, it’s more of a Tim Henman than a Roger Federer.