Just when you thought you’d seen the back of Tim Henman, here he is again, teaching rookie players how to lob, slice and smash, and sharing tips on how to not win Wimbledon even once in your career. “Cheers, Tim,” we thought, arrogantly skipping Virtua Tennis’ tutorial, “but we’ll muddle through without you.” After 17,000 failed serves in a row, though, we slunk back to Henners with our tails firmly between our legs, and implored the British champion for his help.
It wasn’t the fault of the motion controls – they’re graceful, intuitive and by far the best of their kind on the Wii. It’s just that we just weren’t expecting something quite so subtle, nuanced and… well, fair. After thumping our arms around like an angry gorilla in so many other Wii titles, Virtua Tennis’ measured, often delicate racketing makes a startling, long-overdue change. There’s still a generous amount of arm-thumpage, but it’s mixed in with lighter, more dexterous maneuvers – you know, like real tennis.
Of course, the game won’t turn you into the next Federer, Nadal or even Andy Murray, but you’ll feel like a pro, which is all that matters. Sega have nailed motion tennis so successfully there’s almost no buttons needed, apart from holding A or B during hits to do a more powerful strike. When you’re about to play a shot, an election-style swing-o-meter appears over your character’s head, indicating which part of the court the ball’s going to end up in. Strikes are initiated by raising the remote, before bringing it down when the bar’s in the right place. It’s simple, fun and precise.
The Nunchuk handles character movement, but it’s also possible to play without it, surrendering control of your legs to a largely automated system. The game’s MotionPlus functions are bound to drastically rewrite these controls, but we weren’t able to test them at the time of reviewing.
In a nice change to the pared-down, feature-lacking Wii ports we generally see, Virtua Tennis 2009 has everything the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions have to offer – a detailed World Tour mode and online multiplayer – and with a not-too-noticeable graphical hack-job to boot. All the usual stars are present and correct, with newcomers Andy Murray and Ana Ivanovic joining the fray, but in the revamped World Tour mode you’ll create your own champ from a modestly detailed set of options.
World Tour is the deepest single-player mode Virtua Tennis has ever had, consisting of a week-by-week schedule of championships, sponsorship matches, minigames and challenges, and a shop where you can buy shinier rackets and whiter T-shirts. Every activity, from playing a match to undertaking a challenge, uses up your character’s stamina – deplete it all and you’ll spend the following few weeks in hospital. Championships and other activities do repeat but they only appear at specific times during each season, so keep an eye on your stamina to make sure you don’t miss out on too much. Luckily you can rest, buy energy drinks or even go on holiday to replenish your strength.