With the recent release of the new MotionPlus controllers, Nintendo Wii owners can expect a plethora of new titles in the works. These enhanced motion control add-ons to the existing Wii-motes are opening up new doors to possible gameplay. But does this really mark the end of days for the humble button?
In time for the MotionPlus launch, there are two tennis titles already on the market. SEGA, who have been fine-tuning their Virtua Tennis franchise for years across several platforms; and EA Games, who although being highly respected in the field of sports games have yet to cash in on the tennis code. NZGamer had the opportunity to review both versions, and this week SEGA’s Virtua Tennis 2009 hits the courts.
Firstly, Virtua Tennis 2009 is definitely the more serious of the two. The graphics are as realistic as the Wii can handle and SEGA have made a point of not using buttons during play, fully utilising the MotionPlus controllers to mimic actual tennis racquet handling. For example you can rotate your wrist to create top-spin or to slice the ball, lobbing the ball requires a scooping type motion and drop shots require a slight, gentle flick of the wrist as if you were really just nudging a tennis ball over the net.
With all this said, however, actually pulling off the whole experience certainly takes some getting used to. Timing is obviously essential and Virtua Tennis 2009 allows the player to turn on and off a visual aid depending on the player’s skill level. The window of nailing each shot is affected by the speed at which the ball is travelling towards you – meaning smashes and fast serves can be hard to return successfully. Also your arm movements when attempting to angle your shots generally have to be overly exaggerated to get them travelling to the left or right. Which usually means smashing your mate in the gut or taking out a nearby lamp.
The end result is a very different experience from what we’ve seen in Wii Sport’s Tennis. It seems more realistic, but it won’t be intuitive to those who haven’t actually played tennis before. With the MotionPlus controllers, the console isn’t reading generic swings and gestures – it’s following the movement of the controller from one microsecond to the next, making it seem natural… but very unforgiving to beginners.
For those without the MotionPlus controllers, Virtua Tennis 2009 is still a very playable title. It is still precise and feels responsive except for some of the more technical “spin” shots. However we certainly recommend using the Nunchuck controller as well when playing. Without a Nunchuck controller, your player will move around the court attempting to position him or herself in the right area for the shot – just like in Wii Sport’s Tennis. The problem is you never quite know which side of the ball your player will end up on, which means a split-second to change from a backhand to a forehand. The D-Pad offers a small amount of control, such as rushing the net or nudging left or right. But anyone who has tried subtle controls with the D-Pad on the Wii-mote will understand how frustrating it can be. With the Nunchuck you have full control over your player’s movement, even allowing you to anticipate shots and letting you create strategies and set plays in advance.
Visually, the game is definitely one of more detailed and realistic games on the console. It makes a change from all of the cartoony, simplified titles already on the Wii market. Virtua Tennis has always been known for its high-contrast and over-saturated graphics and the Wii suits this “semi-gaudy” style nicely. The player controls seem fluid and the variety of styles of play are well implemented across the cast of famous faces, such as Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Ana Ivaonvic and Boris Becker. You can also create your own custom player with an impressive character creation mode at your disposal. Competing in amateur tournaments and working your way up to the big leagues gives you cash to buy new clothes and accessories while making a name for yourself in the tennis world.
The vast array of gameplay modes definitely sets Virtua Tennis 2009 apart from its competitors too. Apart from the “create a player” mode just mentioned, players can participate in fun (but totally insane) mini-games to fine tune their on-court skills too. These range from shooting down pirate ships while avoiding their cannon fire, feeding animals at the zoo by hitting food to them accurately or even playing a game of 9-ball pool by serving the cue ball down a giant sized pool table with six pockets. They all test your core skills such as serving, placing a volley and just getting your footwork down. However we were disappointed by one mini-game that sounded like it revolved around an alien invasion. Expecting to smash balls at ET and his mother, we were instead presented with a strange line-up of stationary black objects that resembled network servers. The game modes continue, however, even extending into online options complete with rankings and tournaments that can help improve your custom player.
Virtual Tennis 2009 is definitely a more detailed experience than what we’ve seen in Wii Sports. Which it should be considering Wii Sports not only contained several other sports, but was also a “testing” platform for new owners of the console. However the game hasn’t been directly developed for the Wii, and at times feels like a rushed port of the 360 title (with toned down graphics of course). Player animations can be slightly dodgy, especially after a point has been scored with players often running after the ball for no reason. Despite the high-quality graphics of the game, the sound effects feel like they belong in a game from the 1980’s. The typical grunts and groans from your players are more amusing than realistic (which is compounded by their repetitiveness too). Some of the menu items don’t seem to be designed for the Wii either, including the in-game menu that lets you change the timing indicator on and off. Instead of being able to use your on-screen hand cursor (like you do for everything else), you have to use the D-Pad as if the game was on a traditional console. All this aside though, for serious tennis fans and those wanting a realistic (and challenging) experience, Virtua Tennis 2009 will be very rewarding if you posses enough patience and skill. For the casual gamers and families out there, we feel that EA Games’ Grand Slam Tennis may serve up a better experience. Find out next week when we review it.