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Jeremy Jastrzab
05 May, 2011

Virtua Tennis 4 Review

PS3 Review | Sega to serve...
It’s strange how the competition to be the world’s best tennis player seems to come down to two players: McEnroe and Borg, Agassi and Sampras, Williams and Williams and more recently, Federer and Nadal. Incidentally, those in the market for a tennis game have two distinct options: Top Spin and Virtua Tennis. Well, there was Grand Slam Tennis by EA in 2009, but it didn’t seem to stick. In any case, 2K Sports smacked a forehand winner with this year’s Top Spin 4, so now it’s Sega’s turn to see if it can return serve with Virtua Tennis 4.

Since Virtua Tennis 3 in 2007, Sega tried to do the (bi)yearly update thing with the release of Virtua Tennis 2009, which failed to add much over a few roster updates, token features and new mini-games. Virtua Tennis 4 though, does have some noticeable changes and improvements over its predecessors. It’s an unashamedly arcade title, with very simplistic controls (face buttons and analog stick) and adherence to the ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ mantra. But just like any self-respecting arcade title, underneath the simplicity are the subtleties to the mechanics and reading the play that need to be learned in order to truly excel at the game.

Aside from the usual minor refinements, the biggest additions to Virtua Tennis 4 are the play styles and super shot. These two features work hand-in-hand to potentially change how you play the game. Every player in the game, whether they are real, fictitious or user-created, has one of a variety of ‘play styles’. Play styles could be described as All Round (Roger Federer), Solid Defense (Rafa Nadal), Big Serve (Andy Roddick) or Hard Hitter (Juan Martin Del Porto), just to name a few. Playing as one of these play styles encourages the player utilise that particular style. So when playing as a 'hard hitter', your super shot gauge will increase with every shot that classifies as a ‘Hard Hit’. Furthermore, you’ll notice that each of these players will be more proficient with shots performed with their preferred style, and that each has advantages and disadvantages against other styles. Players will find that starving an opponent of their favoured style is beneficial. Overall though, none is distinctly better than the other, so it’s all well balanced.

Gonna hit you hard now!

Gonna hit you hard now!
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Rally not going your way? Down 30-40 with the opponent on match point? The super shot can help. Once you’ve charged up your super shot meter by playing to your style, you’ll be able to potentially change the course of a match with the super shot. Replacing one of the slice shot buttons, executing a super shot with a full meter will propel your shot back at light speed down a sideline in the hope that you can steal back the point from your opponent – a little bit like a finisher in a fighting game. Since it takes a while to fill this gauge, you’ll be lucky to get two shots off in a match, so it’s definitely there to use when you back’s against the wall, and an excellent addition to mix up the flow of a match. That one inspirational shot can be a catalyst for a turn-around or shift in momentum. Note though, it won’t always come off and your meter will reset if you save it for too long.

The purpose of the career mode (World Tour), aside from winning the four major ‘Cups’, is to gather stars to improve your player rank and eventually become the best player on the circuit. After creating your own character, using a fairly basic set of customisable options, including appearance and stroke animations, the creative progression through the career is almost like a board game. Spanning four seasons, each corresponding with the four (non-licensed) majors, you’ll progress across each of the relevant regions using the concept of ‘tickets’. Your tickets are used to move between each of the nodes on your ‘game board’, with moves being between one and four nodes.

At each of these event nodes you’ll either have practice matches (single or double), tournaments (single or double) events, management, training (mini-games), which is necessary to earn different play styles for your character, and rest. The mode becomes an exercise in managing your condition, improving your player through training and making sure you get enough exposure, all while winning matches and tournaments. Clocking it will take at least 10 hours, probably more if you’re thorough, but there is enough encouragement to try run through multiple times, as the challenge and the ticket system means no two playthroughs are the same.

Oh, so they have a ballet style too?

Oh, so they have a ballet style too?
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Aside from the career mode, you’ve got your usual assortment of arcade, exhibition, online and party modes. Disappointingly, there is no tournament mode. However, the arcade mode almost feels like that of a fighting game, complete with a cheap final boss! Cleverly, the default option for tennis matches is to last one set, with best of two games. This means you can get through lots of matches and still have a satisfying experience, but the option to increase the match length still exists. The mini-games are an assortment of what's been found in most of the past Virtua Tennis titles. All of them are quite enjoyable, expect when facing a ‘good’ opponent in a coin match, and the PlayStation 3 version has exclusively the revival of Pin Crusher – essentially ten-pin bowling mixed with tennis.

Given what Virtua Tennis 4 is looking to achieve, there isn’t conceivably a lot more that could have been done for it. However, the overall AI structure means that the career mode has an uneven progression. During the first half, you start off quite poor and you noticeably improve as you play through. At the half way point though, things seem to advance much faster than you’re able to keep up with. You’ll blow poorer players off the court without a fuss, and pros blow you away. It's almost as if you have to play through again with an enhanced character to compete. Playing doubles with an AI partner can be annoying, Especially when you lose against no-names despite having Roger Federer as a partner. Finally, the seemingly endless procession of poor opponents can make for a really boring grind at times, often exposing that outside of the competitive matches, the system can come off as quite shallow and predictable, particularly as styles become irrelevant. This can make the game frustrating, along with elementary omissions such as tournament mode that prevent the game from having a really lengthy lasting appeal. Hopefully the online community will take care of that.

While we can’t comment for now on the Xbox 360 Kinect or Wii Motion Plus implementation, the Move implementation is fantastic. The development choice of placing the player from a first person perspective and making movement automatic, while showing a racquet silhouette in-front of the player is excellent. No buttons involved, just one-to-one motion control, that while disorientating at first, is best played with enough space and actually attempting proper tennis strokes rather than flailing like an idiot. It's quite liberating to actually see the one-to-one racquet movement in your hand and play proper tennis shots by applying spin or slice, Single exhibition matches, both one and two player (but no doubles) and the ‘Net Play’ mini-game are excellent at showing off the technology and fun in bursts. The PlayStation 3 version rounds out the extra features with three extra ‘Legends’ players: Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker and Aussie legend, Patrick Rafter. This is in addition to the eleven male and seven female professionals, and three other extras.

Oi, let go! Don't be a sore loser!

Oi, let go! Don't be a sore loser!
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In terms of raw graphical grunt, Virtua Tennis 4 won’t win any prizes. However, for what it lacks in the finer details, it makes up for having a perfect frame rate (seriously, it’s quite amazing), astute player animations and surprisingly life-like recreations of the professional players. Everything looks just the way that it should and there is nice contrast between the locations of practice matches, big tournament games and even the mini-games. The game has quite an interesting sound track for a tennis game, consisting of lite-techno tracks that actually fit the feel of the game pretty well. The atmosphere of the matches is pretty good too, anytime you’re playing in-front of a crowd, while every other sound effect has an arcade twist to it. Unfortunately, aside from an announcer telling you the score or time, there is no commentary, though on the flip-side, it doesn’t come off as a bad thing.

The World Tour mode in Virtua Tennis 4 is actually quite a creative little beast and the additions to the gameplay of play styles and super shots add an interesting, if very arcade, dimension to matches. While not much can be said for either the Wii or Xbox 360 for the moment, the Move controls on the PS3 are actually a nice implementation, though not positioned as anything more than an interesting but temporary distraction over the main game. Unfortunately, imbalances in the AI over the career mode and missing features such as a tournament mode expose a game that will at times frustrate and bore. Still, if you prefer your tennis to have more of an arcade feel, Virtua Tennis 4 will fit the bill, while the PS3 version is the most substantial of the lot.
The Score
With some good gameplay additions and a new twist on the career mode, Virtua Tennis 4 still manages to play a great game of arcade tennis. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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14 Comments
2 years ago
Any idea of how this compare's to Top Spin 4?
2 years ago
I will have to try the demo i guess, Virtua Tennis 2 was great at the arcade and i jumped at the chance to buy the ps2 version. Playing VT 3 and VT 2009, i didn't have the same fun i did with VT 2.
2 years ago
oh my god what have they done to Roger's face (in that last screenshot)?

I'll probably get this, really enjoyed Virtua Tennis 2009 and currently enjoying Top Spin 4, add another game to the to collection.
2 years ago
why do sega skip the L with virtua instead of virtual?
2 years ago
Benza wrote
why do sega skip the L with virtua instead of virtual?
Maybe it's to do with the problems Japanese have with pronouncing R and L? Someone meant 'virtual', said 'virtuar' and it ended up as 'virtua'?

Pure speculation of course
2 years ago
I really doubt that, otherwise we'd have Virtua On instead of Virtual On.
2 years ago
Virtua Tennis is known as Power Smash in Japan, anyway.

Good point about Virtual On, I was going to say maybe it's a Sega thing they ran with, except that Virtual On is Sega too...
2 years ago
Benza wrote
why do sega skip the L with virtua instead of virtual?
Weren't they just trying to create a (somewhat unique, in a corporate way) brand that had a name which evoked the virtual reality craze of the 90's? Virtua Racing, Virtua Tennis, Virtua Fighter, Virtua Cop, Virtua Striker, etc.

It was just to make them seem cutting edge, which they sort of were at the time being 3D and all. Now Virtua Tennis and Virtua Fighter are well known brands, so they'd be stupid not to still call the games that.
2 years ago
The chip was the virtua chip also wasnt it.....virtua racing was pretty much the first thing like that apart from hard drivin....my cookies were popped back in the day.
Then i guess virtua fighter used the same chip and such and so on and so forth....virtua though? because fuck you i guess.
2 years ago
ah ok so it's just a nonsense marketing word not actually meaning anything.
2 years ago
^Now you're getting it.
2 years ago
so what about the 3d, any good?
2 years ago
Not that the recommendation of a purchase would be affected by whether the 3D is any good or not, but yes, the 3D is actually pretty well implemented from a core point. But it can still be a little tough to judge a lob at times, though you could argue this is to do with the 'normal' camera angle.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  05/05/2011 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Sega
Year Made:
  2011

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