You'd think developers would be racing to bring a MotionPlus-capable tennis game to WiiWare at the moment, especially after Wii Sports Resort didn't include a new version (unless ping-pong is enough to satisfy you). However, Virtual Toys has decided to skip the Wii Shop for now and release their new VT Tennis as DSiWare, offering stylus controls, seventeen different courts on which to play, and also the ability to customise your character as he or she rises through the ranks of the international circuit. While it all sounds like it'd make for a great pick-up-and-play game, VT Tennis has a few quirks that deserve addressing.
Both stylus and button controls are available, and you may toggle them back and forth in the Options menu. In each setup, there's the serve and four other shots available, and only trial and error can help you to figure out which shot is more appropriate during which situation. Luckily, Tennis School is available to teach you each different shot and what is required to play them in-game. The button controls are fairly straightforward, but while using the stylus, it feels somewhat odd to have to tap the screen to have your player move around and then hold a direction on the D-Pad (or one of the ABXY buttons, lefties) while quickly sliding your stylus however you need to in order to make whichever shot you desire. It would've felt much more natural to use the D-Pad to move around the court and/or aim your shot and then have differently shaped strokes or taps correspond to the different shots instead, if the buttons had to be involved at all.
Another difference between both styles of control is the appearance of on-screen cursors while using the stylus. No such visual aid appears while using the buttons and D-Pad to aim your shots, making it impossible to tell where your ball will land. The on-screen cursors don't necessarily denote your actual taps or slides so much as they just tell you where your ball is going next. Being able to see where your ball will land makes things easier on you, but having the cursor suddenly pop up on the far left side of the court when you had intended to aim for just left of the centre line is irritating. Aiming is difficult with the stylus at first - it's not where you lift your stylus from the screen (which would've been nice) but rather the direction of your flick that counts.
When you're finished with Tennis School, it's time for Career Mode. Here you'll choose from several different options to create your very own tennis player, though oddly there is no option to change your character's skin tone to anything but bed-sheet white. Career Mode is tournament-based, with matches and opponents generated for you and no difficulty levels to choose from. You'll begin in a Singles tournament, and later on, Doubles will also be introduced, where you and your hired CPU-controlled partner will take on opponents in tandem. The skill of the CPU is somewhat hit-or-miss, but generally if you're far enough from the ball when it reaches your side of the court, it will spring into action and nab it for you. The same goes for your CPU opponents, though they're more hit than miss; you'll have to be on top of your game to get past even the first tournament in the series.
As you win each successively harder tournament, you'll unlock new courts for play in Quick Mode, earn money with which to buy new outfits and racquets, and gain stat bonuses in the form of prizes. By increasing the power of your shots as well as your speed, you'll eventually build up your character enough to make it through all the available tournaments and become number one in the international circuit - or, at least, that's the idea. Tennis is incredibly repetitive, and while this game has enough to offer to please those who are already fans of the sport, in no way will VT Tennis bring over any new converts.
Quick Match mode allows you to customise your game with a number of options, but if you're not in the mood to set everything up on your own, the Auto button at the bottom of the touchscreen will generate a match at random for you. Quick Match is great for tennis on the go if that's what you're craving, but note that there's no multiplayer option here at all, not even if you've got two players who have both downloaded the game to their DSi systems. Constantly playing the CPU wears on you after a while, and this game really would've been perfect for some two-player head-to-head action, so it seems like a missed opportunity.
You'll be greeted at the main menu by a blaring rock theme repeating over and over, but the in-game sounds are as quiet and calm as any professional match. The contrast between non-stop guitar rage and near-silence is so stark that you can't help but wonder whether or not it was done on purpose. As for the graphics, for a game requiring absolute focus on a tiny yellow circle, they're not bad. The only moving objects are you, the ball, and your opponent, so there's nothing else to watch, and though there's a tiny jerk in the running animations, it's nothing that will distract you. The only problem with this game being on such a tiny screen is that sometimes the ball will be shot high up into the air, past where the screen can display, and you'll be left watching its shadow to follow it across the court.
Why Virtual Toys would bring VT Tennis to DSiWare instead of WiiWare first is a mystery, but what's done is done. The controls are tricky at first, but people willing to practise will be able to use each available shot technique to their advantage. The character customisation is a bit odd (the 'international circuit' isn't very international), but other than that there are quite a few different outfits and racquets available for purchase in Career Mode, and being able to build your skills is also nice. Quick Match mode is great for pick-up-and-play goodness, but sadly, there's no multiplayer mode available at all, and constantly playing the CPU does get boring. If you're already a fan of tennis, you'll probably have some fun with this game, but newbies will want to give this one a pass.