Our initial impressions of Rafa Nadal Tennis were not positive. The menus are a mess, with a broken scoring/ ranking system and a glaring absence of a playable roster. Tennis pro Rafa Nadal is hardly noticeable in his own game, making only an appearance on the title screen, and then again as the sole playable character with the exact same moves as his one nameless opponent. It wasn’t until we spent a few hours hitting the ball back and forth that the control scheme began to impress us… but it didn’t impress us enough to recommend this work in progress to you.
Credit where credit is due: the game’s basic rallies play well. All you have to do is tap the screen to send Rafa scrambling across the court. When you’re in position, a swipe to the side will aim your shots left and right, while swiping your finger down will lob high and a swipe up will result in a slam. Since the game contains no power meter or other indicators, you have to learn by feel how far to slide your finger to keep the ball in bounds, but out of the reach of your opponent. It’s a subtle and effective way to connect the player to the action.
Although the control scheme is convincing, Rafa Nadal Tennis is greatly hurt by its lack of additional content. A good tennis game should be more than just the tiresome back-and-forth of spins, lobs, and smashes. Rafa Nadal Tennis contains four types of courts, but just two players, and three different modes that vary only by their length. During a 20-minute match, you can’t even quit mid-game to take a phone call without losing all of your progress–a big mistake for any mobile game.
Furthermore, Rafa Nadal Tennis lacks the production quality we expect from a full-priced iPhone game. Crowds sit motionless while the match plays out below, and the players themselves are tiny and not very detailed. The way the view zooms in and out of the court is a nice touch, but it can sometimes interfere with the gameplay, as the view will change just when you need to tap where you want to run.
Rafa Nadal Tennis quickly wears out its welcome, but it could be much better if it offered variations on the basic gameplay and a few essential fixes, like a mid-game save system. It’s disappointing that this promising prototype of a game costs full price at the App Store. Fans of Rafa Nadal and quality tennis games deserve the full package.