The stylus used to play the majority of DS titles offers numerous inventive ways to interact with video games. It's great as a simple pointer, as an all-in-one kitchen utensil, a surgeon's scalpel and for many other purposes. What you don't instantly think of, though, is the stylus doubling as a tennis racket. This is what Rafa Nadal Tennis asks you to believe, and it's something that starts off feeling awkward, improves over time, but never feels as natural as the developers would have liked.
With a main menu that does little to inspire confidence and game modes that are bare to say the least, your time with the game will predominately be spent working through a pretty bare bones career mode (earning stat increase points as you go) or by playing with up to an additional 3 players locally using Wi-Fi. Rafa Nadal Tennis features support for four players on a single game card, making it ideal for players who like to play on the DS with friends. Some extra courts and players are available if using multiple game cards, but you can get by with just the one.
Even if you've played every tennis game released to date, it's well worth taking a look at the Tennis School mode before stepping onto the court for a competitive match. By default the game is played entirely with the stylus, and it's far from a natural fit. Serving requires you to hold the stylus on the touch screen to set power, before stroking it forwards in the direction you wish to serve. While initially tricky, serving ends up being by far the best use of the stylus in Rafa Nadal Tennis, and after a while you'll get into a decent rhythm.
Playing ground strokes is where the 'fun' really begins. Firstly, to move your player you need to press the stylus on the court position you want to move to. This is simple enough, but the problem comes when you then need to perform a stroke after getting into position. Strokes are played by drawing a line in the direction you want to hit the ball, with downward strokes performing drop shots when you're near the net and various d-pad directions acting as shot modifiers.
'... to move your player you need to press the stylus on the court position you want to move to.'
On the default setting your player will automatically move back to the centre of the court after each stroke, making life a little easier, but when played on 'hard' you're required to control every inch of movement. Movement and ground strokes taken out of game context and performed on their own are remarkably simple, but trying to do them consecutively is a recipe for disaster. Early opponents can be fought past, but when you reach the higher ranked players you'll feel incredibly let down by the control scheme.
After some time you'll be able to compete at a higher level than when you started, but I never felt that the stylus was the ideal control solution. Thankfully there's the option to switch to the more traditional Virtua Tennis-like control scheme, where you have separate buttons for each of the major shot types and all movement and shot placement is carried out with the d-pad. Using this method Rafa Nadal becomes a competent game of tennis, but it doesn't have the same quality feel as evident in SEGA's classic arcade series.
Without a license for the top pros or the official tournaments, the only player you'll recognise is Nadal himself, although his likeness suffers due to the DS' limited graphical grunt. Player animation is generally solid, although running up the court does look a little suspect, and audio is nothing to write home about. It's all pretty typical DS stuff, doing the job without really excelling in any particular area of presentation.
Shoehorning in touch screen controls is often the biggest failing for DS titles, and had Rafa Nadal Tennis shipped with stylus control being the only means to play, it would have been a game that is simply too flawed to recommend. Switching to d-pad and button controls makes it a solid tennis game, and its local wireless support for up to four players makes it a good option for social DS players.
VideoGamer.com Score5 Score out of 10
- Great multiplayer support
- Simple (button) controls
- Presentation could be better
- Stylus control doesn't feel right