Virtua Tennis 4
Developer: Sega AM3
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1-4, online 2-4 players.
Words By:

VT4 is in fact the first to be made by the original Virtua Tennis Team (Sega AM3) since 2006. The game plays in an almost identical way to the way I remember it on the Dreamcast back in 2000. The only thing that seems to have changed is the player lineup, although some of the original players appear in VT4 as “Legends.”

The controls are pretty standard with the ‘square’ button producing a defensive. slice shot, ‘X’ is a standard topspin shot and ‘triangle’ is used to lob the ball in a high arc. ‘Triangle’ is also used with direction stick pulled toward the net simultaneously to play a drop shot, although this doesn’t seem to work very well, you just hit a short lob with topspin that bounces high and looks nothing like a drop shot. This is disappointing as it’s just the same as in the original Dreamcast game all those years ago, as is the limited range of shots.

You now have a ‘concentration’ gauge in the top left corner of the screen and when filled, by playing a series of shots particular to your playing style (further styles can be unlocked as you progress), a ‘super shot’ can be performed by using the ‘circle’ button. Serving has always been an annoying feature for me in tennis games and VT4 is no different. It uses a similar system to before, but from the main menu you can now go to the practice mode and, thanks to a visible indicator, see how the movement & direction timing actually works. I found this helps improve the consistency of my serves somewhat, the problem being the eternal Virtua Tennis problem that achieving a “Max Power”, perfectly aimed serve rarely actually gets you an Ace. What’s the point in hitting a powerful serve when most of the Aces I’ve got were from average power serves, not particularly well directed and apparently just randomly missed by the AI opponents?

The Virtua Tennis series has always included most of the best players around at the time and VT4 includes the following: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andrew Murray, Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, Juan Martín del Potro, Gael Monfils, Fernando González, Tommy Haas, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Andreas Seppi (who?), with Legends Boris Becker, Jim Courier, Pat Rafter and Stefan Edberg. The ladies are a fine and varied bunch including current World Number 1 Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Venus Williams, Laura Robson, Anna Chakvetadze and Ana Ivanovic. The same silly “boss”-type characters, King and Duke, complete the lineup.

The player animation is of the usual high standard, the only real hiccup occurring when a player slips over, which looks a bit odd-almost like they took a pratfall on purpose. The players’ likenesses are rather varied too, with some players looking a lot nicer than they do in person; Venus Williams somehow manages to look younger than ever. The game has a rather weird sweat that adds a strange glow to the player’s faces which looks plain odd; this is a shame as the sweaty effect on the player’s arms etc. looks very realistic, as does most of the kit they wear

You can play 1-4 player exhibition games with any of the real pros or use your Tour player. Most gamers will head for the career mode ‘World Tour’ and the bad news is that in an effort to make it more interesting and give it more “depth” it now plays a bit like some sort of hellish “Tenn-opoly & Ludo - Ladders” board game. Now, let me say this: there’s a reason why board games have almost died out and been replaced by video games-they’re annoying, overly time-consuming and frequently BORING as f...heck. When you start out your coach (Spencer Heath) supplies you with numbered “Movement tickets”, so for instance you can only move to an event or activity 2 spaces away if you have a ticket with a 2 on it. Sound daft? Well yep, it is. You can buy extra tickets (it’s always handy to have a #1 ticket in reserve and a “Rest” ticket as well.) Starting off in minor events in Shanghai and China, you work your way around the world, but only performing in events that your selection of random and bought tickets will let you. Now in the absence of a tutorial I’m all for letting you learn how a system works but the first FOUR tickets are used moving to and past spaces where “Nothing Happens” So what’s the point in that?

The World Tour is now all about winning both prize money, Experience Points to up your player’s attributes and performance Stars to increase your Star Ranking. During the tour season you can practice with mini games to improve the various aspects of your player’s game (defence, net play, serve etc) by performing activities as bizarre as herding baby chicks back to their mother hen, or something more normal like popping balloons, making poker hands with giant cards or colleting coins. You’ll also spend a fair amount of time smashing plates, hitting bombs at your opponent and standing on switches to make walls popup at the net to block your opponent’s returned shots. Nobody can accuse VT4 of taking itself, or the stuffy old game of tennis too seriously.

During the tour (it plays like a board game remember) you’ll have spaces where you can earn more Stars via publicity work (appear in a commercial), interacting with fans, do interviews and charity events (you don’t actually do anything in these pop-up window “events” but it usually ends up costing you money and earning you Stars.) Like most board games some spaces need to be avoided or “Something Bad Happens” (you may suffer an injury or lose some money.) The odd thing about the ranking system is that your Star ranking obviously goes up, and like me I’m sure you’re used to associating the good players with low rankings, meaning the whole thing seems a bit arse-about-face at times...

You definitely need to pay some attention toward upcoming turns and plan ahead though as apart from avoiding those “bad” spaces I discovered (much to my disgust) that it’s even possible to mess up and arrive late for a tournament, at which point for every day you’re late you get some hard-earned Stars deducted. I appreciate they’ve tried to make the tour mode a bit more involving but this wasn’t the way to do it; Tennis, no matter how you dress it up, just isn’t that fascinating a sport for most people and turning the tour mode into some sort of mutant board game micro-management thing just makes things take longer to do.

The PlayStation Move controller is supported and works quite well, particularly if compared to Wii Tennis. The view is changed to first-person view (with just your racquet visible at times on-screen) and shots genuinely seem to head in the direction the imaginary racket head would be pointed. It seems possible to play a range of shots by adjusting your position relative to the TV screen and realistically varying your swing at the ball, although the level of control would be best described as “hit and miss,” with quite a few shots missed for no apparent reason, and others (like serves) almost mechanical (once you’ve raise the controller to toss the ball the hit is automatic.) You can play 1 or 2 player exhibition matches using any of the real players that are unlocked, and specify the number of games etc. right up to full length sets best of 5! You should of course make sure there’s plenty of room available before doing so or it’s possible that all kinds of furniture, ornaments, pets and small children, or most importantly the TV itself, could be damaged.

In Move mode the 2-player is played via a vertical split screen and works really well (you both obviously need to have a view from the near end of the court) but you’ll need a good 10ft/3m square in front of the TV screen to play comfortably (and safely.) There are also two slightly disappointing party games available in motion play: Net Blitz (hit balls into football goals) and Mummy Attack (smash the mummies before they steal your treasure.) It would have nice if there were more party games and it’d have been cool to be able to switch to the Motion control for the Tour mode too (if only temporarily or for the odd optional event), but maybe this is an indication that Sega themselves weren’t entirely happy with the level of control that the Move controller affords. Regardless of control issues, the Motion play adds a new dimension to the game, and I could even see gamers using it as part of their exercise regime (if they have one.)

Installing the game onto the HDD is supposed to improve the loading times but some (particular when messing around changing equipment in the kit catalogue) are still painfully slow. VT4’s sound effects are pretty good, but some of the grunts and screeches that issue from the players are clearly intended for comedy value (particularly one male player with a high-pitched voice)... The worst and most ridiculous is the gang-rape-sounding “Oooo-Waahh” noise that comes from Maria Sharapova, but this is of course actually very close to the real, almost X-rated thing. While I’m talking about sounds I’d like to mention that although I tried to listen to it, and even had it just turned down for a while, I HAD to turn the music completely off lest it drive me to commit violent murder on some innocent passerby. Whoever’s responsible for the ear-pollutant elevator “music” that plays throughout the game and also for the awful, grating menu sound FX should be beaten within an inch of their lives-preferably with a tennis racquet.

And while I’m talking about things that annoy me about VT4, the basic menu selections and even the main game map seem unnecessarily complicated; for instance when trying on a new item in the kit catalogue you get a preview of the new shirt, dress, racquet etc. (which entails a few seconds loading), then have to remove it (more loading) in order to buy it – I mean why can’t you just try it on and buy it? When getting to a tournament a text window informs you that “The Tournament Is Starting” which it isn’t, not until you press ‘X’ again anyway. For some reason the main map has two modes, one where it’s just a map and the other on which you actually move from place to place. In ‘move’ mode you can choose which space to move to and yet have to press ‘triangle’ or move the cursor with the right stick away from the intended destination and then back to it in order to find out exactly what the destination event is-it’s truly bizarre, overcomplicated nonsense overdesigned to the point of idiocy. After many shots you'll also get a random replay, some of which are from cameras placed in the stupidest of positions, meaning you often can't even see the ball!

Online you can play ranked or ‘player’ matches with friends, and during and after games exchange text messages and taunts selected from an extensive menu (these are mapped to the unused L1 & R1 buttons.) There are online ranking tables too, if you’re in to that sort of competitive player. The game plays reasonably well but as with every tennis game I’ve ever played online the success or failure often swings on one millisecond of lag, and I can’t report that the game was lag free, even when playing with a relatively local friend with an equally fast connection.

The (ahem) base line is that VT4 plays a good, solid game of tennis, and the PlayStation Move compatibility serves up a new gameplay element. The problem is that while Virtua Tennis was easily the best looking sports game around for a few years, now just about every sports game on PS3 and 360 looks this good, or better. If you’re considering a purchase then the World Tour will certainly keep you occupied for a while and the multiplayer possibilities are endless, but there’s also the problem of just how short-lived the appeal of tennis games tends to be, regardless of how good they are. But if you’re a Nadal, Federer or Murray fan or just need a new game to use your Move controller with then you could do much, much worse.

Best Bits

- Looks nice.
- Sizeable World Tour mode.
- PlayStation Move compatible.
- It’s good old VT!
Worst Bits

- It’s good, old VT...
- Board game World Tour mechanic is weird, and a bit of a yawn.
- Iffy presentation from the Womens’ TV-style opening titles.
- Shockingly bad music and some clunky menus/loading routines.
- Even after all these years you still can’t play a drop shot that looks and behaves like a real drop shot.

by: Masonic Dragicoot

Copyright © Gamecell 2011