There was a time, back in the days of the Sega Dreamcast, when Virtua Tennis was by far the greatest tennis series in the world. Things have changed over the years though, and with this debut Wii release it finds itself competing for ranking points with a handful of other impressive tennis titles. The likes of Top Spin 3 and the new EA Sports Grand Slam Tennis go for a more realistic experience while on the other side of the spectrum there's Wii Sports, a game which will always have the upper hand because, simply put, everyone with a Wii already has it. So is Virtua Tennis good enough to justify buying it over the competition? Yes... as long as you have the Wii MotionPlus attachment.
If Nintendo's latest Remote attachment didn't exist, Virtua Tennis would be fairly average. Playing the game with a standard Remote is an enjoyable if frustrating experience. Much like in Wii Sports, the angle at which you hit the ball depends on how early or late you swing. Swing a forehand shot early and it goes to the left, swing it late and it'll go to the right.
There's a handy little meter that pops up as the ball approaches so you can tell which direction your swing will go, but the problem is that there's not enough margin for error.
The window of time in which you have to swing is quite small, and as a result it's very tricky to accurately hit the ball exactly where you want to. In a way, it offers the wrong challenge - after all, in real life, it's pretty simple to hit a tennis ball to the left or right. The challenge in a tennis game should be trying to force your opponent out of position so you can get the ball past them - the actual act of making it go where you want shouldn't be a problem.
Plug in the Wii MotionPlus attachment though and suddenly the entire game transforms. When the ball approaches you simply pull your arm back to get ready for it, then swing the Remote forward to play it pretty much where you expect it to go. It's a hard thing to describe in words, but basically if you pretend you're holding a real tennis racquet and swing in the same way you'd expect to swing if a real ball's coming toward you, the on-screen ball will go in the right direction the vast majority of the time.
We stress "vast majority". It's not perfect. There are some instances (mostly when you're trying to hit the ball right down the middle of the court) where it doesn't work as well as we'd hoped, which feels more annoying than usual because everything else is so accurate.
For the most part this shouldn't be a problem - it's not often in a tennis rally that you'll want to hit the ball any way other than to the left or right - but when it comes to some of the hilariously crazy mini-games included in the game's career mode, some of which revolve entirely round smacking items down the middle of the court, it gets a little frustrating when you can't do it every single time, which is supposed to be the point of MotionPlus. Thankfully you can switch to the normal control method when you want, even though it defeats the purpose of MotionPlus a bit.
Still, we can put this down to the fact that Virtua Tennis 2009 is one of the first Wii MotionPlus games out there and we can assume that it may initially be difficult for developers to get their heads round the extra programming work that's needed to get this sort of thing working perfectly. That doesn't mean we're letting them off for the control problems; there's no denying it has a negative impact on the game. The thing is, when it does work (which is almost all of the time) it works so well that it's easy to forget the times it doesn't. With two players both using Wii MotionPlus playing Virtua Tennis is one of the best multiplayer experiences you can have on the Wii.
The lengthy career mode will probably take you around 15 to 20 hours to get through (complete with the daft mini-games that the Virtua Tennis series is well known for - what other tennis game lets you smack bits of fish at a penguin with your racquet?), and there's also full online multiplayer, so you'll be at this for a while. If you don't have MotionPlus though, it's not quite so essential.