Since the days of Atari, game makers have sought to recreate the simple excitement of a blistering rally, the masterful drop of a technical shot, and the epic tension of a hard-fought deuce. But while tennis may be a sport that’s perfectly suited for the medium, it’s also a game that brings subtle challenges for developers. Unfortunately, Gameloft’s Real Tennis 2009 makes a number of these challenges very apparent.
Let’s start with the good. RT09’s presentation is very nice. The menus are slick, the colors bright and vibrant, and the music is that special style of layered guitar that will pump you up for a fast round of volley and serve. The game looks beautiful in all its widescreen glory, and recalls the visuals of the Virtua Tennis series on PSP. The sound is equally compelling, with each ping of the ball sending cheers throughout the crowd.
Taking a whack at it.
There are four modes of play: instant, championship, tournament, and multiplayer. RT09 also has 10 players to choose from: 5 men and 5 women, each with befitting names like Kantikova and Tanerer.
Tournament match-ups last as many as 13 games (about 30 minutes), and without in-game autosaves, should you exit the app during gameplay you’ll be forced to restart the entire match from scratch. Given the nature of iPhone gaming, we feel there’s simply no excuse for such omissions.
When opening RT09, players create a profile to track their progress. For every win with a particular player, experience is gained to raise that player’s skill level. It’s a nice reward system that might be useful when climbing the ranks in championship mode, but the game’s erratic pacing and poor control scheme soon negate any benefits.
The most obvious problem is that it’s extremely easy to ace serves, regardless of the difficulty setting. Players hold the device parallel to the floor and use the accelerometer to aim serves across the net, releasing their shots by either motioning the device back and forth, or simply tapping the swing button twice. Serves aimed diagonally and barely over the net produce ace after ace– an exploit that red flags poor design.
Acing another serve.
To hit the ball, players tap and swipe a single on-screen button. Dragging up produces a lob shot, sending the ball sky high (for the computer to slam it back to the court), and swiping across makes a slice shot.
The controls feel imprecise, and produce unintended drop shots at random. The result makes for poorly paced battles, as the player dominates on the serve but gets handily owned on the defensive. Most matches end with a tiebreaking set, but that’s not because the match-up has been exciting.
Moving around the court using virtual controls feels sluggish, and the game’s proximity awareness is off, too. Running down a ball that’s across the court often ends with a short and underhanded lunge in the wrong direction. This happens again and again, on both sides of the net, and never seems to result in any contact with the ball. It’s almost like a go-to animation, reserved for moments of intense confusion.
As fans of Real Soccer 09, we had hoped that Gameloft’s first foray onto the tennis court would improve as we practiced, but that’s simply not the case. Through imprecise controls, an exploit that breaks the serves, and the inexcusable omission of in-game saves, tennis fans hoping for an intense rally in Real Tennis 09 will instead get caught in faults.