Virtua Tennis 4
SEGA gives you the
opportunity to reach tennis super stardom in Virtua Tennis 4 but is the
journey there a rewarding one?
I haven’t touched a tennis game, apart from Wii
Sports, since the days of the Xbox unlike Madden and FIFA which I
generally update every second year. Pin pointing the differences in
those releases can often be difficult and I assume it’s the same for
those who buy tennis games religiously, but to someone coming back to
the genre the progression is remarkable.
The first you notice about Virtua Tennis 4 are the
slick graphics. Real world players are rendered accurately in the game
and the range of animations on offer to represent the different shots
are exhaustive. Playing through a game with two highly skilled players
you can end up with some very realistic volleys that almost make you
feel like you are watching the real thing, almost. While the animations,
individually, are quite strong there are still a few strange occurrences
either through poor AI or a bad animation. For instance your character
will pull-off some really awkward shots when the ball comes straight at
The computer also seems to give up on shots a lot and
you are left with this awkward flailing at the ball seconds after it has
gone past. While the animations help to develop a sense of realism the
introduction of the ‘super shot’ by SEGA gives the game a more arcade
feel. Players specialize in an aspect of their game, forehand, backhand,
trick shot, and during a match a bar fills up when you successfully
complete those shots. When it fills you can perform a ‘super shot’ which
reminds me of the ‘predator kick’ from the old Adidas Power Soccer on
the PlayStation. You unleash a powerful shot that is difficult to stop.
Menus are easy to navigate but the white and grey
color scheme is a little bland. In game there is great use of bold
colors to make venues and player outfits really pop. A few licensed
songs, like EA Sports manages to throw in, would have been nice as the
mix of Japanese pop and elevator music can become really grating after a
while. Also the lack of commentary during matches means your attention
is really focused on the player noises and environmental noises which
really do nothing to excite. A boisterous crowd and over the top
grunting have become key features of tennis but neither impressed in
Virtua Tennis 4.
The meat of the game lies in the career mode. You are
given four years to play in and win the four major world tournaments.
Entry into the tournaments is gained by collecting star points. These
are awarded for winning exhibition matches and minor tournaments as well
as participating in celebrity events, like hospital visits.
Unfortunately the career mode is hampered by a frustrating movement
structure. Each turn you are given movement cards, from 1 to 4 moves,
that determine how far and where on the map you can move. If you don’t
take the right path and save up the right cards you can even miss big
tournaments, like I did with the first big Asian tournament.
Being restricted like that gets really irritating
after a while. In between tournaments and exhibition matches players can
also play various mini-games to increase their skill set. While the idea
of the mini-games are good they seem to have little relation to actual
tennis training and your skills seem to level up at a strange rate. For
example one mini-game has you running around the court picking up a
trail of chicks and guiding them to the mother hen while avoiding tennis
balls. Avoiding the obvious issue of why you are rounding up chickens on
a tennis court the game seems geared towards improving your speed and
agility but even though you don’t hit a single ball all aspects of your
game are increased upon successful completion.
The standard exhibition and practice modes are
available along with the party mode which features all of the mini-games
from the career. Due to licensing issues the exhibition mode suffers
from a lack of recognizable stadiums and a deep roster of known tennis
players and legends.
Virtua Tennis 4 certainly offers gamers a lot of fun
with its random selection of mini-games and off-beat career mode but
there’s definitely that more arcade feel to the game that may not
provide as big a challenge for hardcore tennis fans.