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Virtua Tennis is unquestionably the best “arcade” tennis game in recent times, with excellent accessibility to the title and true “pick up and play” qualities.  With the release of the MotionPlus accessory for Wii, Sega have decided to bring this franchise to the motion sensing platform that seemed to have been made for this type of game. Virtua Tennis 2009 supports the Wii MotionPlus attachment, but like other game to be released alongside Nintendo’s new accessory, it is not a requirement. Will it be the enjoyable and easy to learn game that we have come to expect from the series?

VT2009 opens with a flash introductory movie that befits the arcade origins of the series. An inviting and suitably large “Play” button allows players to jump straight into the game, or a welcome tutorial mode lets Pro Tim Henman show you the ropes. Not that Tim is any more than a pretty picture though – disappointing there is no tutorial audio and lesson are simply onscreen cues with a headshot of Henman next to them. While it is nice to have the tutorial mode, there is unfortunately a lack of onscreen feedback to help you figure out exactly what is wrong with your swing. You simply keep swinging until you hit the ball correctly 3 times, and it is left to you to experiment.

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The basic swing mechanics are very much like those of Wii Sports and EA Grand Slam Tennis. Swing early as a right-hander and the ball goes across court to your left. Swing with “correct” timing and the ball travels straight up the court, or leave it a little late to hit the ball to your right. A “love it or loathe it” swing timing indicator appears above your player with every shot, helping you work out exactly when to swing to hit the ball in your desired direction. Thankfully this can be turned off easily. The game appears to apply topspin by default, but slice can be added with a twist of the wrist and a downward swinging action. Drop shots are played in the same fashion as a slice but with “less force”, but I found these were erratic and difficult to execute in the heat of the rally. Lob shots are played by holding down the A button during a swing.

Plugging in a nunchuck controller allows you to control the character movement, but, as noted in the Grand Slam Tennis review which also supports this, it overcomplicates the matter by messing up your swing due to the cord between the nunchuck and Wii-mote.

Attach a Wii MotionPlus (not included and not available in a bundle) enables the fabled 1:1 mapping, where you line up your body to aim the ball as you would playing real life tennis. Imagine a line drawn between your hips, and that is the plane along which your ball is supposed to travel when it is hit. Sounds great in theory but unfortunatlely I found the controls inaccurate enough to be frustrating. Sure, it might work about 90% of the time, which is arguably far more accurate than Wii owners have been used to until now, but can you imagine buying a car that turns in the opposite direction to what you steer to just 5% of the time?  With a little tweaking, I found that if I swang the Wii-mote like I did in EA Grand Slam Tennis (Wii-mote to the left for a leftward shot, and to the right for a rightward shot), it actually improved my game so I gave up on twisting the hips and body.

MotionPlus appears to have been tacked on to VT2009, from what I could make of the menus. The game does not automatically detect the presence of a MotionPlus accessory, and you must select the MotionPlus control scheme before a game if you have the attachement and wish to use it. This could be excused except that this selection is required before each and every game that you play – even when you progress to the next game in a championship. This was a minor but very frustrating oversight.

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Once you are as happy as you can be with the controls, it is time to hit the courts. While EA Sports’ Grand Slam Tennis concentrated exclusively on the tennis “slams”, Virtua Tennis 2009 does not include these events and puts you on the rebel “Sega Professional Tennis Tour” instead. You’ll play through a packed calendar of made-up tour events, taking on made-up characters to work your way up from your starting rank of 100 to the ultimate goal of being the world’s number 1. As you make your slow climb up the rankings, you will eventually take on real tennis pros in both singles and doubles events.

The courts look reasonable graphically, featuring 3 dimensional crowds (1 more dimension than those in Grand Slam Tennis). Character models for the 23 tennis pros are somewhat recognisable, but the generic characters, while customisable, sadly can’t be prevented from looking like zombies.

On court the game plays pretty well apart from the occasional motion-control nuance already discussed, although I did find the occasional game had frame-rate issues that lasted throughout the match. This came and went with no particular pattern, and spoiled the experience. Doubles play is available on the same or split screens, supporting up to 4 players simultaneously for exhibition matches only (no 2 player co-op doubles career mode).

Where Virtua Tennis has always shined has been in its quirky but fun mini-games, and the same is true of VT2009. It helps quell the monotony of endless rallies on court, by serving up 12 assorted mini-games including old classics like Avalanche (work on the footwork and collect fruit while avoiding the giant tennis balls that will bowl you over), and Pin Crusher (hit 10-pin bowling pins on the other side of the court), as well as new additions such as Pirate Wars (hit balls to sink pirate ships), and Pot Shot (hit giant billiard balls into pockets). As before, succeeding at these mini-games improves your player’s skill level, so there is a hidden serious side to these sometimes outrageous games. It is unfortunate that while one of the best features of the game is the mini-games, they cannot be played outside of the career mode in a kind of “party mode” with friends.

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Virtua Tennis 2009 offers a good online mode for the Wii, which ditches the need for friend codes. While you can hook up with a friend, you can just as easily jump into a random match with someone else over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Unfortunately the games that I played were plagued with lag to the point of almost being unplayable. Your milage may vary so if online play is important then I would highly recommend you test this on your connection before sinking your funds into this game.

The online mode has the excellent feature of implementing your online results into your offline career. Similar to the Top Spin 3 online career mode, you can play in “events” where your result against your random online opponent counts towards that event. So rather than simply having W/L/ranking, you can also walk away with titles to add to your players résumé.

Closing Comments

Virtua Tennis 2009 doesn’t revolutionise tennis on the Wii, but it will probably be a more exciting experience for anyone that finds tennis a little lacklustre. The mini-games have always been the strength of the series, and provide fun diversions in your quest for world domination. The gameplay retains the arcadey nature of the series, and will be easy enough for most to pick up and start playing immediately. You may wish to check out EA Sports’ Grand Slam Tennis and compare notes, but each game has a pretty even set of strengths and weaknesses. For what it is worth, Virtua Tennis 2009 is less serious, with a little more focus on fun, and has faster gameplay.

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