Virtua Tennis was the pinnacle of arcade sports games when the original came out for the Dreamcast. Back then, it had 2 buttons and was so simple to pick up, but impossible to master. The perfect recipe for any arcade game. The sequel added a 3rd button and a more robust world tour before AM2 handed the reigns over to Sumo Digital for the fun but stale Virtua Tennis 3 and 2009. Now AM2 take the mantle once more, but can they freshen up the game enough to make a purchase worth it?
Virtua Tennis 4 (Xbox 360(Reviewed), PS3, Wii, PC) Publisher: Sega Developer: Sega AM2 Released: Out now (European console versions), May 10 (US console versions) Summer 2011 (PC) Price: $49.99/£39.99 (360/PS3), $39.99/£29.99 (Wii) TBA (PC)
Jump into a game and the first thing that you'll notice is that not much has changed. From the slightly dated graphics beginning to show their age right up to the same play style. As you delve deeper though, you find that by following your players play-style builds up a bar above your players name. Once that is up, you can hit B to unleash a power shot that is unstoppable in the correct situation. It's that simple elegance which makes Virtua Tennis a joy to play, but the big addition may make it more complex.
That big addition: motion controls on all consoles. Kinect, Move and MotionPlus are all supported and by all reports, working well with intricate wrist movements affecting shots on Move and MotionPlus. Sega are saying that Move is the best way to play the game, but TV ads for the game appear to have had a Sony-sponsored PS3 spot in there so I'm now taking their claims with a pinch of salt.
For those without expensive add-ons though, is there anything else to justify the purchase? Well, online mode has had a massive upgrade borrowing the excellent Virtua Fighter 5 netcode. The matches that I've been subjected to have been smooth with a very good match-making service. Not only that, but online tournaments are in making it a good overall package that can keep you coming back.
World Tour is the meat and potatoes of the game and it's holding up it's end of the bargain. After changing the default design from it's perfectly Aryan look to a guy with the ever-fashionable Hitler moustache and the highest pitch grunt ever, I got underway. As Samit explained in his preview, instead of being a super-serious sports simulation of a career, it instead brings a board game style experience. This is a departure of older Virtua Tennis games as well where you manage your time and schedule to train using mini-games. Now you have to plan your moves with 3 movement cards randomly given to you at the start of each turn with the aim to get as many stars (which affect rankings) and coins to spend on various things. There are also 3 slots to store your own cards. The stored cards range from numbers for movement, condition recovery, agents (which give an increase to stars as you go about your day to day activities) and shuffle cards that will discard your 3 movement cards for 3 new ones.
As you move through the map, you'll find exhibition matches and tournaments, publicity work (raises your profile at the expense of some condition), charity work (like publicity but also loses you coin), accidents, relaxation spots and training mini-games. The mini-games are all new and are excellent with none of the coming across as filler. Highlights being Ace Striker where you serve a football into a goal past a wall and goalkeeper, Poker in which the aim is to hit balls at cards to change them and create poker hands and Wall Battle, which is a 1-on-1 tennis match except you have 3 switches to make sections of the net grow and bounce the ball back to you opponent to score points.
Sensibly, the mini-games are broken up over the 4 seasons so you don't have the all available to get bored of in one play session. Each season concentrates on a different part of the world, with the first season being Asia and Australia, the second in south Europe culminating in the French open, third in north Europe with Wimbledon and finally America with the US open. Finally, there is a bonus season if you finish in the top echelon of the rankings, adding another area and year to play where you will face the king of all tennis, who returns in this game. As you go, you'll receive messages from your rival players usually mocking you, your coach giving you some advice, or Chris who is your stalking superfan who sent me a letter saying he liked my "ball chasing-down skills".
If you've read all this, you're probably thinking that should take your time and slowly go to each tournament, training hard and getting enough events, but each season also has a number of days. If you're late, the tournament actually waits for you, but not without a hit to your reputation for having a gall to be late.This changes the dynamic of the world tour to be a fine balancing act as you also need a number of stars to qualify for the tournament and not waste all your condition on the qualifying rounds and does add a much needed dash of strategy.
Tracking my progress through a few accidents, all of which resulted in "strange rumours coming out about me", I unlocked a lot of kit to buy that never really interests me, but since you start in a grey top and look dull, I had a look and I was not disappointed. Right now, I'm rocking a t-shirt shirt, playing with a baguette as a racket and wearing jeans. The lack of seriousness is endearing and made me want to unlock more comedy outfits which actually have a point along with the comedy rackets even changing the sound effects with baguettes making a really satisfying DOOF noise and the clink of smacking a ball with a sledgehammer. Fancy dress party outfits give you cash multipliers the more fancy dress items you have on.
At the end of each season, a number of awards are handed out for the Season MVP, most MAX serves, most smash points, most special shots and the speediest player which is the player who reached the final tournament in the least amount of moves. Then your new season starts with you starting on maximum condition. The only thing I can fault the world tour on is the god-awful music, which unfortunately is true throughout the whole game.
All in all, this isn't the in-depth tennis simulator that something like Top Spin is. If you're wanting a serious sports experience, that's what you should be sticking with. If you want a fun, deep game with excellent online features and a possible reason to dust off those motion controllers, you should be seriously taking a look at this. It is the definitive Virtua Tennis and it's a fabulous purchase even if you're upgrading from 2009. Going back to the original developers and not outsourcing to Sumo has shown and hopefully it continues the tradition of improving the franchise with each iteration instead of becoming a yearly sports cash cow. It isn't going to be for everyone and that has been reflected in my score, but as a long-time fan of the series, this is Sega at their arcade-style best.
8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)