One of Sega arcade classics back in the day and now a nicely refined game overall, Virtual Tennis is back and hasn’t changed its pace or mix of vibrant settings, cool mini games and excellent court play.
Virtua Tennis never did really change in leaps and bounds, Sega pretty much struck gold with its design of VT from the beginning and as time has passed it has created something original and loyal to its roots but at the same time hands you formidable challenges. The fluidity of the controls have been improved slightly, there’s no more dodgy moves made when returning shots, you can get round the court easier and the games arcade style is apparent in most of the game and because of it VT is very easy to pick and play but like most games it can be a bit harder to hit that 100% completion mark.
Before you begin your journey onto the road of Tennis stardom there’s a Practice tier on the menu screen to catch up with some of the basics or if you’re new to VT to learn the basics of the game. There’s a Serve Lesson and five other lessons that teaches you the necessaries but in a more energetic fashion. These training lessons or mini-games which you will learn to become the best from are not tedious or boring like you could initially think, most training challenges are good fun throughout the entire game if not a little bizarre at times.
After a little dabble in Practice you can chose from the seven options given in the menu, World Tour, Arcade, Exhibition, Practice, Party, Motion Play and Xbox Live. They’re self-explanatory but the most enjoyable bit about VT is its World Tour mode, there is an options tab for any tweaking you’d like to do as well. When you select World Tour mode you choose from four difficulties Easy, Normal, Hard and Very Hard and choose a character from the array of stars VT has to offer or you can make a custom character. Custom characters are always fun to play with and bring you further into the game and there’s a fair amount of options to create your character with, characters faces visually look vibrant and fresh but I’ve seen some monsters custom or otherwise but most look the part and if not there’s always Headwear to buy to cover your face up with in World Tour mode.
The aim of World Tour mode is to travel around four areas with the aim of competing in the four major events eventually. Coach Health is by your side, an obvious pro in his field, to help you achieve ultimate tennis fame but do watch out for his cheesy cheers and compliments in-between the actual things you need to hear. Moving around the map is a little different this time and overall works better; you use numbered tickets to move the allotted amount of spaces. Players should be wary at what tickets you have in your hand as not to land on anything bad but you can buy extra tickets from the Management Offices which are the purple logos dotted around the map you just have to land on one. As you proceed you’ll need to collect stars to get into the larger tournaments, the key is to perform well in matches and other tournaments but there’s other ways of earning these stars. These activities include interacting with fans, public training, interviews and charity events.
Next to your players start count is the Health Condition Gauge which basically shows your players physical standing. This gauge drops every time you do something like training, playing games and publicity activities. Resting restores your condition so your character plays better again, you can do this by landing the hotels and luxury holidays and you can also buy Restoration Tickets at Management Offices which take up one day to use but if you go into the red you will pick up an injury and these bring games to an end – quick. This gauge grows longer when your condition bar (notice these rise after training) gets to a certain level, it will also changes colour when you’ve earned different stages to your condition.
After you’ve made a move or come out from a match you’ll always end up at your schedule menu, this helps you navigate your characters skills, clothing and doubles partner it also shows key information about you next tournament. If you get through to one of these larger tournaments you can be given a seed if you have a high total, if you score a seed position you’ll be given a favourable spot on the tournaments chart. Best strategy is to earn as many stars before you encounter a tournament. The smaller tournaments where you usual start are called Satellite tournaments and are small scale tournaments. These are open to anyone as they have no star entry requirements and are a great way to test your skills and shots in preparation for the harder tournaments and matches that lay ahead.
At the end of a season players with outstanding records in specific categories are presented awards, these are like secondary awards and awards are given for six categories in all. The mini games at this point become a lot harder as you proceed through the levels 1-6, they’re in all 8 mini games to build up your character with. Each mini game trains a certain skill type like Stroke or Tactical and as you progress higher and higher with your skills Advanced Play Styles will become available in the Locker Room in the Scheduling menu. The first four are easy enough to achieve and are a doddle to utilise in matches, after selecting one the purple bar that appears at the top right of the screen can start to be filled with the correct type of play. This bar is your Concentration Gauge and once filled you can pull of a near perfect shot by pressing the B button, beware these are also quite hard to defend from and will test your defensive and recovery skills. After further training your skills more advanced techniques will be unlocked, these help you learn about other shots and help with your footwork, drop shots and volleys and can draw you further into the game for a few more hours.
When you eventually become tired of the World Tour mode there is Arcade mode to make your way through and try to score the best you can. You play through four of the biggest championships on your own or with other people as single and double play is available, again you choose from the four difficulties Easy, Normal, Hard and Very Hard. You can choose from all of VT tennis stars like Federer, Nadal, Sharapova and you can load your custom character if you think they can beat the best. Courts are easy to look over as they look quite simplistic and the atmosphere from the bigger arenas gives Arcade mode a different more lively quality to it as you play. There are also Exhibition matches to set up and play if you fancy some single matches with up to four friends, these are just like the Exhibition matches you will have played in World Tour mode and you can try out different shots free from the worry of screwing up your season as well. You can play all of the mini games again too in the Party tier on the main menu, the only difference is from World Tour mini games is you advance through the levels one by one upping the difficulty the higher you go, you don’t get to choose what level you start at it’s always level one.
For gamers who have Xbox Live set up VT has a good completive vibe to its online play as there’s virtually no lag or connection issues just the occasional slower response time from your character which doesn’t impede play enough to spoil the experience. There’s Ranked Matches and Player Matches, Ranked Matches are normally set up quite quickly but you can play while you’re waiting for a challenger. You collect SPT Points, player EXP and cash after Ranked Matches but it’s separate from your World Tour score apart from the cash and you can check your SPT rank, online experience bar and what Level you are currently at by looking at your online card in the menus. When playing Player Matches you can enter other players Clubhouses which appear after you’ve searched or if you can’t find any you can create your own. When you’ve entered the Clubhouse setting page you can name your clubhouse but only with house titles that have already been pre-selected, you also have the option to open all four courts up at the same time or just the one. You can select what people have to play like singles, doubles and even mini games on each court in the set up process and If you don’t have enough friends who own VT to fill one court don’t fear! Other online players are always near as there always seem to be a room set up with space anyway you just play by their rules.
Virtua Tennis 4 is another great game in an already niche beating series, as always there aren’t many changes but the few tweaks that have been added work very well to bring the whole experience together better than last and is worth investing in a copy. However the lack of progression is noticeable now and will be again if the series doesn’t implement change, hopefully the next title will change Virtua Tennis’s structure to create another distinguished game.
Developer: Sega AM3