Sega returns with another edition of their franchise tennis game Virtua Tennis. Still kicking from the arcade days, Virtua Tennis attempts to reclaim some ground that Top Spin ruthlessly stole from it with Virtua Tennis 4.
Shall we find out the score?
Virtua Tennis is nothing if not stylish. You'll notice from the moment you turn the game on (after the length installation time) that Sega has thought this edition out thoroughly. Stylish menus and wonderful transitions, you'll be visually sold that this game is something special. To an extent the menus have it correct.
Sega has reached deep down in its think tank to produce a very fun and deep game with VT4. You get some new options and you get some old favorites. The most noticeable new option is the World Tour board game that graces the career mode. Taking a page out of Mario Party (just in layout), the World Tour board is put together in tournament segments. Within each tournament segment there are various paths leading to training sessions, shops (where you can purchase numerical tickets that represent you board movement -- amongst other things), tournaments, exhibition matches, charities, rest stops (hotels) and places where you can suddenly lose your wallet for no good reason. Reviewers and gamers have been severely divided on this new inclusion to the career mode. One of the biggest reasons is that it slows down the career mode considerably, as you have to do certain things to gain stars to qualify for big tournaments. Having to go through training, satellite tournaments and exhibitions is perhaps exhausting to some gamers who demand instant gratification, but for this reviewer it was a relaxing/addictive change to a video game sport that has never had me interested. Granted, the entire thing is not perfect (not even close). I do love the idea of having to earn stars and pick/choose a correct path to a major tournament. I do not enjoy the time limit given on getting to the tournament, as you are penalized for not arriving on time. I also don't care for the useless 'negative' red blocks that are scattered around the board. I think I jumped on one of them once and found out what the heck they are; I never jumped on one again.
Anyway, I like the amount of depth the World Tour board adds to the career mode. It creates a more defined reward system for the gamer. Earning new clothes, new gear and new styles of playing through this board is worth the effort. Again, I can only imagine that people who just need instant gratification are the ones griping about this; most people these days don't like earning what they're getting, as they just want it.
Another nice edition to this game is the styles your player can acquire. The styles represent certain types of strengths that your player can purchase and use. If you want to be a hard hitter then you can purchase it. If you prefer strength in volleys then you can purchase it. It's a nice add-on to a game that needed a bit more solid direction. What's also neat about the styles is that once you purchase them to raise your style meter you must perform the specific style your player is geared towards. For example, my first strength was with volleys, so I had to crowd the net when I played. With every successful volley the style meter went up. Once it maxed out my player was able to perform my strong style perfectly, and it usually meant scoring. Anyway, it was a welcomed feature and for me (a virtual n00b to the series) it created some structure in learning the game. Anytime you can learn a sports game through structure like this it means that you're going to gain more fans to the series (ask EA Sports how Madden NFL 11 worked out).
Outside of career mode you still get the infamous arcade mode, the network mode (where you can play 2-4 people online), mini-games and practice. One of the bigger modes to make the game this year was the motion control mode. Here you can use the wonderfully underused Move controller to have a solid tennis experience. While I'm certainly not a huge fan of motion controls (sorry, I'm old school) I can certainly see what the draw would be with using the Move.
So what about the presentation? While there's only so far you can take a tennis game, about the same distance you can take a game like PGA Tour, it's still impressive to see in motion. Just like about every sports game made since 2000, you can go in and customize your tennis player to your choosing. You can switch hair, eyes, eyebrows, body structure, weight and about anything you can think of. The details involved are pretty intricate; far more than they probably needed to be for a tennis game. The end result is very sharp, expressive character models that look smooth in motion. The facial structure, the detailed expressions and the player movements are pretty solid in Virtua Tennis 4. From Roddick to Nadal, you'll find some very sharp details in their animated selves.
Something that most people may not notice or give credit to is the very pretty environments that can actually work against you in some respect. The grass, clay and standard tennis courts are what you would expect. They look good and have the right amount of shading and detail to them. The one thing that impressed me the most was the lighting on the courts. If you're outdoors and you've got the sun to your back then the court looks normal. Once you switch sides and have the sun facing you the court gets bright quick. This type of environment change is not only accurate, but also tough to work with sometimes in the game. Getting your eyes adjusted to such a trivial thing makes for another element to deal with in this title. As much as it annoyed me it really impressed me that Sega was that detailed with the design.
With most of what I'm saying falling under the 'praise' category let's talk about the 'needing to be fixed' stuff. At the beginning of the game I had the hardest time trying to figure out some net shots. Not only were they tough to perform sometimes, but also they were tough to read when your opponent was performing them. Each instance usually ended in me losing points. Granted, Sega did put in an option to get a court view of the action, but that simply doesn't solve the issue. I'm not sure if it was angular or what (or that I'm just getting old), but it really did frustrate me a bit.
Staying with frustration, I had some issues with the condition meter. While I appreciate its purpose it goes down quickly if you don't keep up with your training constantly. If you keep up with your training constantly then there's a greater chance you won't make it to a tournament on time. If you try to balance it you usually are on the short end of the stick with losing your conditioning three-fourths through a major. Once you lose your conditioning your character pretty much becomes useless. For example, when I was playing Nadal in one of the major tournaments, I found myself completely rundown on the conditioning meter. Once it was gone I suddenly had an ankle injury. Once that occurred I moved like a three-toe sloth. The game wouldn't let me quit, so I watched Nadal disassemble my player. I hate there are no chances to recover during a tournament. Even worse I hate that no conditioning meter means I pretty much cannot finish the tournament. Very frustrating stuff.
Those were my biggest complaints.
So is this game worth your money? Is it fun? It's a very addictive game and it's fun, especially if you have a Move. Is it better than Top Spin 4? Not sure, as I have not played it yet. I will say that I would pay $49.99 for this game, especially if I'm a huge tennis fanatic. I think the World Tour board makes this title deep and fun. There's plenty of thought given to the offline play, which is rare these days. I could see myself picking this game up again and playing it for no reason other than to waste time (which is a good thing). In short, yes the game is worth your time and money. Yes, this game is fun as well.