Tennis is a rather simple game to grasp and ever since Pong it's been apparent that at its core it's a sport that is perfectly suited for video games. Sega's Virtua Tennis hit the arcades over a decade ago, and it's apparent that Sega have been itching to change things up for Virtua Tennis 4. Super shots, stumbling players, and motion controls are the major additions., even if the arcade tennis at the core remains the same. Position yourself in time, time your button press and that's really all there is to it.
Even if tennis is a rather straight forward sport (unlike Real Tennis), Virtua Tennis is a different beast than 2K Sports' Top Spin series. Short matches, quirky mini-games, and gameplay that focuses more on reflexes and timing than on proper tactics.
The Virtua Tennis series has seen bi-annual releases with Virtua Tennis 3 (2007), Virtua Tennis 2009 (2009) and now Virtua Tennis 4 and even if Sega aren't milking it completely dry I really don't see the justification of three Virtua Tennis titles during one generation.
The four face buttons control normal top spin, lobs, slices and your super shot (different styles available for this one - and you charge it up for use during the matches). It's really rather simple use top spins for most of the time, slice the ball if your opponent puts you under pressure and lob if he's at the net. The super shot is where things get strange. When your super shot meter is charged up you can use it, some players are "rocket servers" other may be "all-rounders" or "hard-hitters". When you activate the super shot the camera moves in behind the player, giving the opponent a little extra time to react, but at the same time it is rather annoying and you run the risk of losing focus for a second which can cost you the point. This addition feels completely unnecessary and gimmicky, mostly due to the change of camera angle. The only saving grace is that they don't occur very often as it takes time to charge them up.
One area where Virtua Tennis has evolved since its arcade origins are game modes. In Virtua Tennis the World Tour mode is the main single player mode and it provides you with a rather addictive and entertaining board game where you build a player up and manage his career. You will train your skills with mini-games, including the always enjoyable hatching of chickens and subsequent delivery to the hen pen, do charity to raise your status, media events, special matches, and tournaments. The presentation is nice, even if there are areas where Sega could have worked on the user friendliness. For instance we don't understand why you cannot explore upcoming events on the same map where you move. Since the events are generally very short you will spend most of your time on the board and in transition.
On top of this there is an arcade mode, exhibition mode, party mode and online play. It's all rather self explanatory, party mode let's you play the various mini-games against others and even if it's unlikely to become a permanent fixture at your gaming parties. Some of the mini-games are more fun than others, such as the previously mentioned pied chicken piper, bomb match and wind match, while wall match and poker never really caught on with me.
One thing that is truly outrageously poor is the choice of music. The repetitive bland rave pop that smells of days we regret in the mid 90's is something that is going to make your brain melt during long session in the World Tour mode.
Overall, Virtua Tennis 4 offers a lot, but it's caught somewhere in the middle of being an accessible arcade experience and offering the wealth of modes and content expected from a full retail release these days. We're not happy with the implementation of the super shot and even if the core gameplay is a solid as ever, there is certainly a sense that we've seen and played all of this many times before. That said, we did enjoy the World Tour mode a lot and even if Top Spin 4 comes across as the better overall game, Virtua Tennis 4 manages to entertain.
This review does not take the motion control options available into consideration. We will later compare the various options players have with Virtua Tennis 4, including Kinect, Move and Wii Motion Plus in a separate piece.