Why fix what isn’t broke? This is what comes to mind while playing through the latest incarnation of Sega’s classic Virtua Tennis series. Virtua Tennis 4 feels instantly familiar, but in a good way. The same gameplay you know and love makes a return and, with a new player roster, improved graphics and the match momentum feature, Virtua Tennis has never been so good. Some additions are better left ignored, but I’ve dealt with worse issues in the past. VT4 is good enough at least that I can still love it for what it is, and not what it could have been.
The same three button gameplay that made the original so addictive is back and, aside from a few tweaks regarding player reach when using running and diving shots, the gameplay is near identical. This is a good thing though. Normally I’d start complaining about repetition and lack of ingenuity etc. but VT4 is just really fun the way it is. The simplicity is what makes it so unique and satisfying, and it also means players of all skill levels can get into the game quickly. There’s still always room for tactical depth though, much like in a real game of tennis.
One new addition to the formula is the match momentum feature, that adds a solid layer of tactical depth to the proceedings. The idea is that every player has a certain style of play such as ground strokes, aggressive net play or fast running. By playing according to your style you build up the momentum bar and, when this bar is filled, you can unleash an extremely powerful super shot. Using these shots can make or break your match, so it sometimes pays off to play smart.
The other main change that you’ll will notice is the new tour mode. Much like previous iterations in the series, you create a character and try to rise through the ranks from zero to hero. You still compete in tournaments and play training games to up your stats, but there is a lot more variety than ever before. The main world map you move around can only be navigated through by using movement tickets that randomly generate each turn. In this way you need to tactically manage your tickets to make sure you land on the right squares and get the most out of your training. It’s simple, but incredibly addictive. It’s also fairly long, seeing you compete in all four of the major tournaments and opens.
From here on in the changes to VT4 are, either a bit rubbish or, fairly negligible. The player roster has seen an update for this new incarnation of Virtua Tennis. This is obviously a good thing in keeping the game relevant and fresh but, seeing as most people are probably just going to play as Nadal and Federer, many won’t be too excited by these updates. The other big change is stereoscopic 3D support. Whilst this does improve the game immensely, it obviously won’t apply to the many who have yet to adopt 3D TVs.
The biggest opportunity that has been missed by VT4 is the motion controlled side game included. PS3 versions and 360 versions of the game have a mode that utilizes the Move controller or Kinect respectively. The problem is that it’s just not very fun. The fact that it is only present as a separate party mode shows just how tacked on the idea is. The first problem is that the camera constantly shifts between a third and first person viewpoint. Whilst this was clearly an attempt to help improve the player’s depth perception, it actually just becomes disorientating and annoying. The other problem is the controls themselves. Running along the court is handled for you automatically, meaning you only need swing at the ball when it comes your way. You can move forward and the game will recognise that you’re rushing the net but, aside from this, your movements are extremely limited. Having only received an Xbox 360 version of the game we cannot judge the Move controller’s impact on this mode, but it felt truly abysmal using the Kinect. Tennis games only work well when the motion controller has some kind of wand or remote. Waving your arms around just doesn’t feel like tennis. It also doesn’t help that the motion detection is sloppy at best, meaning that many of your shots just aren’t detected properly. Thankfully this mode can just be ignored. It’s much better left that way.
In terms of presentation the game has also seen a bit of polish over previous entries in the series. The animations in particular are smoother than ever, but the character models also deserve kudos. My only criticism is with some of the audio. The sound effects are satisfying and well implemented, but the soundtrack seems mediocre and uninspired, and some of the grunts and voice clips are annoying at best.
Virtua Tennis is one of those awkward series that doesn’t leave all that much room for improvement. With the game already as finely tuned as it is, potential sequels don’t have that major addition or improvement they can make. Even though it is fairly similar to previous titles in the franchise, Virtua Tennis 4 is the most accomplished VT title yet and should be considered a must buy for tennis aficionados. Just make sure you avoid the motion controlled side mode. You’ll thank me later.
This game was reviewed on the PS3.
Easy to pick up and tough to master, Strangely addictive, Polished visuals, Fun tour mode, New super shots add to the tactics, All your favourite players are present
Occasionally annoying soundtrack, Pretty standard online components, Dodgy motion controlled game mode, Very similar to previous games in the series
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