|Virtua Tennis 2009|
|Developer: Sumo Digital
Release Date: Out Now
Virtua Tennis was made by Sega’s AM3 studio and was a massive, deserved hit both in the arcades and on the Dreamcast way back in 1999 and 2000. The 2009 update is an easy-to-get-into, arcade-oriented game from the start; you can either play exhibition matches or tournaments (singles or doubles) choosing from a number of the world’s top players (including Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray, Venus Williams, Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova) or go play online or enter the World Tour mode The player competes through tennis tournaments and various arcade modes.
Now 4 games into the series, the earlier sequels did little other more than add some new mini games and change the player rosters, and Virtua Tennis 2009 has changed little since its home debut on Dreamcast. This is a bit of a double-edged sword, as the game plays with the same fast action and believable ball physics, and retains the series’ control system and its fabled “pick up and play” intuitiveness. ‘A’ is your basic top spin shot, ‘X’ and ‘B’ are for slice, and ‘Y’ lobs the ball back in a high, looping arc. By charging (holding down) the chosen stroke button shots are hit harder, and the shot’s direction and depth are altered by directing the left stick as you hit the ball. It’s simple, effective and, for the most part, satisfying. A few problems arise for the tennis purist as running passing shots rarely seem to come off because, wrongly, if you hit the ball on the run the Virtua “law” always seems to dictate that a shot should be relatively weak and poorly directed. Just like Konami's Pro Evo series and the way it makes it ridiculously hard to score with a free kick (despite every Tom, Dick and Ronaldo being able to do it), and given the number of service aces you see in the modern tennis game it’s also still far too difficult to hit one in VT 2009 - regardless of how well timed or directed your serve may be, unless your opponent just misses their return. Most of the AI opponents will return even "max power" serves directed right in the corners more often than not, and sometimes with so much venom that you doubt the wisdom of hitting a fast serve at them in the first place! There are three camera views available but everyone seems to want to use the traditional TV-style view, simply because it's the one that works best and gives the best umm... view.
There are two ways of playing VT 2009 online; either from the main menu in "player" matches using one of the real players, or by using your own player character from the World Tour mode. Online the game plays well… O.K. I suppose but, regardless of the connection speed, lag is still a huge issue in deciding games. VT 2009 hasn’t improved online tennis in this respect at all, it’s no better than when I played Microsoft’s TopSpin online on the Xbox 6 years ago. The fact that at the time of writing the top ranked player (in the World Tour mode) hadn’t upgraded his player at all speaks volumes about how much a fast connection and lag plays a part when winning online games, rather than outright skill or the amount you play the world tour and upgrade your player’s skills.
As with the original Virtua Tennis, for me just playing matches soon gets tiresome and the mini games are what made VT 2009 fun, some old ones return but there are at least six new ones; Block Buster (like Tetris), Pot Shot (pool), Shopping Dash (pick up the groceries), Court Curling (curling, duh), Pin Crusher (10-pin bowling), Pirate Wars (sink the pirate ships), Zoo Feeder (hit the correct food at the animals), Meat Defender (chase crocodiles away from the food by hitting them with balls), Alien Attack (guess), Count Mania and Avalanche (pick up the fruit whilst avoiding the giant tennis balls). They all play well, add some variety whilst improving your skills and will have you addicted for a few hours, but there seem to be some horrendous difficulty spikes, a thing that seems to be getting more and more common in games, presumably to due to a lack of testing. There’s also no “retry” option at then end of a mini game so on completion you get dumped back out to the world tour map, and have to scroll around the globe to find it and load it again! It’s the very epitome of bad presentation and I expected more from Sega.
And oh yes, I can’t finish up this review without mentioning the inimitable SEGA in-game “music” which everyone with operable ears will turn down or, more likely, off. Do SEGA have a team of virtua-musicians who churn this stuff out? I think they must, as I’ve never heard anything quite like it anywhere else. Best described as guitar jazz/rock/rawk/ear abuse, the only other place you’ll hear anything even vaguely as bad as it is in a Namco or Capcom game. Honestly, you never hear music like this anywhere outside an arcade game, and most of it gets bunged in the Virtua games or Ridge Racer. God it’s awful, tooth-grindingly awful, and I’d rather not even speak any more about it as now I can hear it in my head. Arrrgh!
- The World Tour and the mini games
- Same old fast, fluid tennis
- Roger Federer
- Rafa Nadal
- Venus Williams
- The same old lack of variety in shotmaking
- Online lag
- Tour tennis gets boring quickly
- Poor design means unnecessary loading
- Uneven difficulty
- Doris Becker
- Manlie Mauresmo