For 12 years Sega has dominated arcades with its Virtua Tennis series. Developed by one of its premier arcade development divisions (Sega AM3), the company delivered a smash hit on its first service with the original Virtua Tennis in 1999, wowing arcade-goers with a breezy, engaging, simple-to-pick-up approximation of the sport. The game was so competent, in fact, that Sega has struggled to meaningfully update the series as the years have gone by, instead settling upon some straightforward iterations with each sequel - tweaks that freshen the formula without threatening to upset it.
So it is with Virtua Tennis 4, a title that relies on the gimmicks of motion control and 3D TV support to add new value, leaving the core tennis game that lies at the heart of the experience untouched. That no great shame, mind you, as Virtua Tennis 4 plays a mean game of tennis. The controls are effortlessly simple, with one button for lobs, one for slices, and one for strokes. These simple actions are modified with the control stick, which directs the ball and adds top or backspin. As with previous games in the series, player positioning is of paramount importance. To deliver the fastest, most accurate return youl need to maneuver your character into place in good time.
The core game may lack the intricacies of the simulation-approach taken in Top Spin 4, but the easy-going arcade heritage can be seen everywhere in the game. While welcoming to newcomers, there sufficient depth here to ensure that matches between veterans remain lively and exciting.
The only addition to the core game comes from the introduction of Super Shots. Characters are each given a preferred tyleof play, such as being strong when playing at the net. As you complete shots in their preferred style, so you fill a gauge at the top of the screen which allows your character to execute a slow motion Super Shot when full - an extremely fast, accurate shot that hard to return. While you cannot control when this shot triggers, it a welcome addition to the core mechanics, adding spice and interest.
One of the key selling points of this year edition of Virtua Tennis is motion control support for both Xbox 360 and PS3. A bespoke Motion Control Mode, designed specifically for the task, is present in both versions of the game although the execution is a bit of a disappointment. The game auto-directs your character around the court in familiar Wii Sports-style, relegating the interactivity to merely swinging your empty hand around in order to return balls.
The problem lies with the camera, which switches from first to third-person perspective between each individual shot in a rally - resulting in a disorientating, even nauseating, feel.
In the Kinect version of the game the camera fails to match your wrist motions with a sufficient degree of accuracy, while the PlayStation Move controller fares only slightly better by virtue of having something in your hand that is at least racquet-like for the camera to track. Neither version is particularly enjoyable and motion control support will likely remain little more than a five-minute curiosity, before you return to playing with a standard controller.
New Balls Please
The overhaul of the World Tour mode, where you are able to take a character on a journey from newcomer to veteran player in the world tennis circuit, is far stronger. Here you embark upon a series of four tours across different continents of the world, each of which is divided up into nodes much like a board game.
Each city within a region is a tile and they're linked together in a broadly linear fashion. You must spend icketsto travel between them as you progress towards a final tournament at the end of each route. As you move around the board and complete matches, you collect stars which allow you to raise your ranking and also raise your character's stats via mini-games.
There are eight mini-games included in Story Mode, all of which are also accessible in Party Mode, allowing you to compete with friends. In one of these games you must strike playing cards in order to create poker hands. In another, you must run over eggs in order to hatch chicks and lead them back to their coop at either side of the court. These mini-games are fresh and add some interest. While the basic concept has been a Virtua Tennis staple for years now, it adds welcome, arcade-style variety to the main game.
The end result is a game of mixed success. The core game of tennis lacks the realistic bite of Top Spin 4, but is more accessible and immediate than its rival. The motion controls are a bit of a disaster, but the overhauled World Tour mode is well-structured and enjoyable. Online the game fares well, with few of the connection issues that plagued Virtua Tennis 2009. So while there is room for improvement in the overall package, it almost love-all for Virtua Tennis 4.
- Sublime game of tennis.
- Engaging World Tour mode.
- Much improved online support.
- Motion controls.
- Player roster can feel samey.