Virtua Tennis 2009 Wii
Published by: SEGA
Developed by: Sumo Digital
Since the release of Wii Sports, most sports games fans have been waiting for sports games to gives us more depth and more realistic experiences. One of the sports that, in theory, should definitely benefit from the controls that the Wii offers is Tennis. This is especially so now that the Wii MotionPlus, which supposedly allows for 1:1 movement tracking, has been released. Virtua Tennis 2009 is one of the first games to take advantage of the Wii MotionPlus. We've been fortunate to play both this and EA's Grand Slam Tennis alongside each other to see how well both games have utilised Nintendo's new peripheral.
In addition to offering 23 of the world's top players including Federer, Nadal, Williams and Sharapova, for you to play as or compete against, Virtua Tennis 2009 offers a good amount of modes and mini-games to keep you occupied. Play is a mode where you have a choice of playing an Exhibition game, a Tournament, Mini-games or an Arcade game with support for up to four players. World Tour mode, which we'll come to in a moment, allows you to play a virtual career. VT Coach mode (which is essentially the game's tutorial mode) allows you to get to grips with the game's control systems (with and without the Wii MotionPlus). Nintendo Wi-Fi mode allows you to play online which is certainly a welcome inclusion and certainly a highlight although lag definitely appears to be a problem at the moment. Local multiplayer matches are supported but there is no split-screen support so some players won't view the action from behind their player which is far from ideal.
The World Tour mode is the heart of the game and as you'd expect it's the usual story of taking your player to the top from initially being ranked as 100th. You can play the World Tour mode either as a male or female tennis player. You'll get to create your own player by taking one of the existing player models and modifying them. The customisation options are OK but nowhere near as in-depth as those found in many other recent sports titles over the last few years (although they are better than those in Grand Slam Tennis). You'll play in tournaments, practice games, zany mini-games, receive training tips from Tim Henman and you'll get to purchase increasingly impressive tennis gear for you player. If you've played a Virtua Tennis game before you'll pretty much know what to expect from World Tour mode because there aren't any major differences (aside from the ability to play online). It has to be said however that the mini-games are great. There are about a dozen of them which require you to do things such as sink pirate ships, feed animals and pot pool balls. The games are great fun to play and help to sharpen your Virtua Tennis skills.
Virtua Tennis 2009 can be purchased with or without the Wii MotionPlus. Unless you already own a Wii MotionPlus you'd be foolish to simply purchase the game on its own because whilst the game can be played without it, it's actually a poor and frustrating experience. Essentially you have to keep your eye on a shot gauge and swing the remote at the appropriate time to hit the ball well. I found it irritating and far inferior to the bog standard gamepad controls (which aren't an option in VT 2009 by the way) which you'll find in tennis games on other consoles. The Wii MotionPlus definitely is the way to go and with it VT 2009 feels like a better game. The challenge with the Wii MotionPlus however is that you'll really have to think how you're hitting your shots. For those who don't play tennis in real life there's quite a learning curve here. However, I didn't find the controls quite as responsive or as satisfactory as those in Grand Slam Tennis and you can only see them being improved in future Virtua Tennis games on the console.
Don't expect VT 2009 to be a great looking game. We're definitely talking last generation graphics here and the game isn't without the odd frame rate dip here and there although thankfully this doesn't harm the experience in any major fashion. Character models could certainly have looked better and the same could be said for the animations which look both dated and awkward at times. The general presentation of the game is fine however and there's nothing to complain about in this respect.
Virtua Tennis 2009 is about as deaf gamer friendly as most sports titles. There are no subtitles for Umpire comments and comments made whilst you're on several of the menus in World Tour mode but whilst these omissions are unfortunate, they are far from being problematic. The game's VT Coach mode delivers all of its tutorial messages via text. The same is true of the coaching messages you'll receive from Tim Henman in the World Tour mode. During matches all of the important information is displayed visually so you're always aware of what's going on in the match.
So which Tennis game to purchase for your Wii then if you're currently interested in purchasing one? Do you opt for SEGA's Virtua Tennis 2009 or EA's Grand Slam Tennis? It's actually quite a tricky choice to make as both games have their strong points and weaknesses. In regards to how the game looks and controls then it has to be Grand Slam Tennis but that game is disappointing when it comes to content and modes offered. Virtua Tennis 2009, as you would expect for the Virtua Tennis series, is definitely the superior game when it comes to content. Sadly, the World Tour mode feels pretty much like it did in previous Virtua Tennis games for the most part. The problem is that the controls could have been better. Sans Wii MotionPlus the controls are poor. With the MotionPlus the controls are definitely better but just aren't as satisfying as those found in Grand Slam Tennis. It's a tough choice then and hopefully the next set of tennis games from each respective series will improve to make the choice even tougher next time.