It's hard to get excited by any sporting title, much less a tennis one, because despite what game developers would have you believe, short of having yourself virtually inserted into the game, there aren't an awful lot of new, innovative ways to further enhance the gaming experience, with most of the key fundamentals essential for a decent gaming experience already catered to by the big three tennis titles: Grand Slam Tennis, Topspin and Virtua Tennis.
While Virtua Tennis 2009 is labelled as the long awaited follow-up to Virtua Tennis 3, it quickly becomes apparent that apart from a few minor additions and tweaks, the game has received no more than an aesthetic upgrade. The series has built its reputation on being a solid arcade game and as such SEGA and the game's developers, Sumo Digital have embraced the ‘if it ain't broke, don't fix it' school of thought to the gameplay mechanics. This makes business sense and is great news for seasoned players of the franchise.
However, for new inductees seeking new features, I'm afraid you'll be left disappointed as there isn't an awful lot to write home about. The ability to play online is a welcome new feature, with players able to play as their created avatars or anyone of the top seeded players in the world today from both the male and female categories. There is also the option to compete in anyone of the grand slam tournaments in both the singles and doubles tournament and face off against some of the game's elite. The Davis Cup is another first for the series.
Nonetheless, if you fancy a challenge, then the single player - World Tour mode is right up your street. You'll first need to create your character, which irrespective of what sex you pursue always ends up looking like you all originate from the same Petri dish - harrowing stuff. In short, the character animation throughout the game leaves a lot to be desired.
While the climb to the top spot is long, gruelling and at times odious (having to face off against your doppelganger is no picnic, I tell you), its smattering of mini-games (I'll get to those later), practice matches and tournaments to help boost your player's stats, makes it a worthwhile investment.
The mini-games, which are a welcome distraction from the p.s.p - practice, sleep and play monotony of the circuit thrusts the player into a series of mind-boggling challenges. They include, trying to sink pirate ships with your tennis balls, destroy a wall of multi-coloured bricks, zookeeper (yes animals are involved) and avalanche, where you do your best to pick up as much fruit as you can while avoiding abnormally large tennis balls. It's absolutely mental and the most fun an unfit Neanderthal like yours truly can have draped all over my lazy boy chair. Awesome!
While understandably not the game's primary focus, Virtua Tennis 2009 suffers as a result of its lacklustre visuals and less than inspiring audio features, however there aren't an awful lot of titles on the market able to provide a decent blend of arcade fun and insane tomfoolery - this game does.