Good ol’ Virtua Tennis, the arcade sports series from SEGA that seems to never grow old. Whether it be the accessible and addictive control mechanics or the deep RPG elements of the World Tour mode, one thing’s for certain: Virtua Tennis is the definitive arcade sports series. With Virtua Tennis 4 we get arguably the greatest game in the series, thanks to a number of gameplay enhancements, a brilliant World Tour mode and smooth animations that all help make it one of the best sports games of this generation.
What Virtua Tennis Got Right
Brilliant World Tour Mode – Yes, Virtua Tennis 4 has a whole bunch of well known and successful tennis stars, all of which are playable in the Arcade mode. That mode is where you’ll get the original Dreamcast-esque Virtua Tennis experience, but it’s the World Tour mode that’s going to dictate a majority of your time. Not just because it’s jam packed with depth, but also because it’s highly addictive, thanks to a number of well implemented RPG elements that suit the experience perfectly. The world is your oyster in World Tour, acting as essentially a giant board game that you can travel around. You’ll visit a number of different countries while undertaking mini-games to improve skills, marketing events such as photo shoots so as to improve your popularity, and, of course, the big tournaments so as to stamp your superiority on the world’s best tennis players.
Fun Mini-games – Strangely enough, the added mini-games in Virtua Tennis 4 add a distinctive feeling of physical progression that is generally void in the genre. The fun and at-times hilariously outrageous mini-games help you improve your tennis player’s skills, and thankfully each mini-game has six difficulty levels, meaning it’s going to take you a while to get through the lot.
Fantastic RPG elements – It shouldn’t take a rocket science to realize Virtua Tennis 4 is a Japanese-developed game. Its strong RPG elements might seem to slow the game down initially, but they all contribute to a very refined, challenging and progressive career mode that rewards you for patience and practice. The goal is to build up your player’s stats, both physically and in terms of popularity, and rushing around the circuit will see you punished with limited access to the luxurious and most renowned tennis tournaments. Even spending too much time at 5-star resorts so as to increase your depleted stamina will hurt you in the long run, and the game really encourages you to take in every single aspect of the experience, as opposed to simply moving around the board and entering the matches and mini-games that interest you. That said, there’s rarely a moment in Virtua Tennis 4 that feels tedious, as the slow progression around the board is generally countered by intense tennis matches, fun mini-games and customization elements that all contribute to offering one of the best career modes in the genre.
Surprisingly Challenging – Virtua Tennis 2009, as well as Virtua Tennis 2 that preceded it, were both let down by a long and tedious progression up the ranks. A limited difficulty rating fueled this, as the earlier matches were essentially guaranteed victories. This provided limited incentive to continue on playing and was ultimately one of the biggest problems with those games. Virtua Tennis 4 attempts to turn the tide, offering a challenging experience right from the get-go. Other tennis players, even in the earlier matches, constantly challenge you and the mini-games themselves take a while to master, especially when compared to mini-games in other Virtua Tennis titles.
Hard-hitting, intense and close matches – From the moment you play your first tennis match in World Tour you’ll realize you’re in for a tough ride. Matches are rarely blowouts and are almost always tight tussles to the end. The great thing about this is that the series’ arcade feel hasn’t been compromised by an improved difficulty, thanks in part to a smooth and accessible control system that has remained essentially unchanged since the first Virtua Tennis game back in the day. Work your way up through the ranks and you’ll find yourself playing hard, long and intense tennis battles against the sport’s greats.
Great visuals and animations – Virtua Tennis 4 is not a standout on the presentation front by any means, but it has maintained that arcadey look that has helped define it over the years. The animations are smooth and crisp, and the stadiums, although not officially licensed, look exactly as their real-life counterpart. Playing on a virtual recreation of Rod Laver Arena is very pleasing.
Great Value – The World Tour mode is no easy task, and it’s going to take you weeks upon weeks to reach the top of the rankings, if you’re up to it. Once you hit the top 10 the difficulty ramps up considerably, and you might even find your player’s rankings to be fluctuating as you hit roadblocks at grand slams. The arcade mode also provides plenty of enjoyment for play with friends, as the game’s quick matches and simple control styles make for fun multiplayer action.
What Virtua Tennis 4 Got Wrong
Terrible with Kinect – Although highly touted as a major feature in Virtua Tennis 4, the quality of the Kinect implementation is disappointing to say the least. It’s only usable in Exhibition matches as a solo or with a friend, as well as a single mini-game that is better played with the standard controller. Most of the time Kinect is just inaccurate and slow to respond, and its inconsistency really hurts the latency of the experience. If you’re after a solid motion-supported tennis game, check out Virtua Tennis 2009 on Wii.