Game:Virtua Tennis 4
Platforms: PS3, XBox 360(Reviewed), Wii, PC
Release date: May 10th 2011
Price: $49.99 – Here
While Top Spin has always been more of a Tennis sim, Sega’s Virtua Tennis franchise has thankfully always had more of an arcade fun feel to it, and I can safely say that this instalment has not moved too far from that successful strategy. I say thankfully as I was brought up on the NES Ten yard fight and Super Tennis on the SNES which proved that games could be an enormous amount of fun without having to worry about pressing multiple combinations of buttons just to execute one shot. Don’t get me wrong, Virtua Tennis 4 is jam-packed with features to keep you interested and on the edge of your seat, it just comes without a lot of the fine tuning that more often than not can cause complications and frustration in many other tennis titles and sport games in general. Virtua Tennis 4 is the 3rd sequel in the franchise which hasn’t had an update since 2006, and is the first game in the series not to have an arcade title release.
Training – While being very simplistic the training mode is essential in giving players an insight into the timing and positional play required to participate at a high level on the World Tour. As there are only 4 different shot selections on offer; the lob, slice, normal and power shots, many games are won and lost through positional play and timing. Almost in the same way that Fifa soccer utilises players positions when they actually kick the ball to determine the height and power of the shot, Virtua Tennis 4 rewards players greatly for being in the perfect spot to play a given shot. Playing too close to the body will result in a cramped and weakened stroke whereas giving the player room to move will increase the angle and power of the shot. Training is only broken up into 5 different sections and aside from serving is mainly focused around teaching positional play on the court, by aiming at balloons.
Exhibition – The Exhibition mode is pretty stock standard, allowing single players matches as well as up to 4 players competing locally in doubles matches. I played a lot of the multiplayer singles matches against friends and I can honestly say there were intense moment that made you jump out of your seat in frustration and many obscenities mumbled under our breath. One of the reasons for this is the incredibly long rallies that can be generated, due to some of the ridiculous shot angles found Virtua Tennis 3. Winning a long rally with a great shot down the line or overhead net smash is one of the more satisfying elements of the game.
While I’m all for equal rights for women the one complaint I have is that there didn’t seem to be much of a difference between the females and top male players in the exhibition mode. There were many inconsistent wins where Maria Sharapova would beat Roger Federer between 2 quite equally rated game users, but then that same player would lose using a Rafa Nadal. It’s only a minor complaint about a game that focuses more on creating a fun experience rather than a digital version of tennis stats. This mode is a great for when u have a few mates around or don’t have much time and feel like playing a game or two.
World Tour – This was wacky, bizarre and straight out odd, but I loved it. As you can see from the pic above the world tour is setup like some kind of bizarre cross between Monopoly and a map of the world. First players have to customise a character to use during the tour from the 5 preset defaults. Everything from facial construction to height and build can be manipulated to individualise characters to everyone’s tastes. I tried a few variations and beside the obvious visual differences couldn’t gauge much difference in gameplay. The main focus of the world tour is on the “move tickets” which players use to move around the different activities on the tennis circuit with the main aim revolving around collecting stars which allow you to compete in the major and biggest tournament in the area. There are many ways to earn stars ranging from the 8 funky mini-games synonymous with the franchise through to signing autographs for your fans and playing in celebrity matches. The mini-games were broken into 5 levels of difficulty and included hitting targets, beating opponents with barriers on the court, collecting and saving chicken eggs as well as playing long rallies in strong winds. Each games successful completion increases a specific aspect of your players abilities. Although they were a lot of fun and were helpful in teaching player movement they became a little repetitive as the game progressed. The world tour consists of 4 main tours in different locations.
For any competent sporting gamer I would recommend playing the world tour on experienced mode which I would equate to being the same as normal mode on most games. Playing on the lower difficulty levels became painfully easy once you worked out how to fine tune your shots to most areas on the court. Even playing top ranked players was relatively easy from the beginning on this mode despite the games warning that your chances of winning were low and the insinuation was that it was more of a learning curve for future matches. Players start with 0 stars and the more you collect from the various events the further up go up the rankings. To give you an idea of the length of the world tour mode, most events give out around 5-10 stars on average and players like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have rankings around the 700 star mark, meaning there is plenty of game play available in single player mode.
Your coach will guide you through the various events and let you know when you need to rest your character for upcoming events. While it is fun to have to work out the correct sequences in which to move to get to various events it can also be frustrating not having the correct move tickets available. Saying this, players are given the option to purchase tickets from the clubhouse at certain intervals. There were two features that left me a little baffled. The first was the heart icon which when landed on caused a bad event such as injury or loss of points, as well as the random fan mail which kept popping up. It felt more like I had a group of stalkers then admirers.
Arcade mode – This was the first mode I played and is a good way to jump on and play a few quick very competitive matches against higher raked opponents across 4 different tournaments. Essentially gameplay is identical to the other modes but limited to 4 quick tournaments. Each tournament takes place on a different court surface from grass to hard-court which all react very differently to one another.
Party Mode – Consists of 8 different mini games ranging from sliding panels which block shots through to making poker hands by hitting and spinning cards. While they provide a welcome change to the more serious side of the game and are exceptionally fun in multiplayer mode, don’t have much of a replay value when playing by yourself.
Graphics and Audio
While by no means being beautiful the graphics are visually appeasing and character likeness is very accurate. Players move with fluidity and while they somewhat lack the exceptionally sharp features of some sport simulators, all the games visuals fit perfectly with the arcade feel they have successfully achieved. Sound wise, menus and setup screens have quirky little pop tunes playing in the background and in-game play is complete with the infamous grunts many players give as they hit the ball. Really though there’s not much you can do with the audio of a tennis game to make people stand up and cheer, something which i was happy to hear the crowd do, as well as let players know when the game was tense or they missed a shot.
I thoroughly enjoyed the arcade feel to Virtua tennis 4 and the more simplistic style of play on offer. While on easier settings it was simple to take your opponent wide with a good powerful serve then crush them down the opposite line, higher ranked opponents caught onto these tricks pretty quickly and positioned themselves to return almost everything. All players have certain styles, be it a hard hitter or good defence, and by playing to these strengths fill the power meter at the top of screen. I did find this to be a biased way for players to fill the meter as for example a player like Nadal who has a defensive style is forced to play slice and lobs to quickly fill the meter with other styles of shots having no effect on it. Interestingly once the meter had been filled once and the rally continued any shot refilled it at a much faster rate than before. Once full it allows the player to hit a Super shot which if positioned correctly will more often than not result in a winner. Again it is all about timing and position when you strike the ball as to the success of these shots. One really cool feature was just before a power shot the view changed allowing players to somewhat gauge where it is going to fall on the court, which at least gives the opposition some kind of chance of returning it. General gameplay was smooth with no visible glitches and player movements were for the most very realistic especially remembering this is essentially an arcade title. There has been some minor tweaks from previous versions, namely the unrealistic diving to get near impossible shots, as well as improved Ai of opponents.
All in all I personally think that the keep it simple approach has resulted in a much more accurate representation of the game of tennis then many other titles with far more advanced controls. Simplicity doesn’t mean easy as although beginners can pick up a controller and get stuck into it straight away it takes some time to master its finer aspects. Shots can be redirected at the last moment, catching out those sneaky mates that watch your hands as they play, and serving is an absolute joy once you get used to the sensitivity of the control stick. Similarly you don’t have to push any special buttons to perform a drop shot or go to the net, it’s all about the players position and what they would naturally do in that situation. Sure there are a few discrepancies but they by no means take away from the positive aspects of the game. The single player world tour is fun and imaginative and if I was to have a few mates around this would be my first choice should tennis be on the agenda.
N.B I do not own a PS3 Move or an Xbox Kinect so I cannot comment on its functionality on those peripherals. From what I have read the PS3 Move has many added features including a close up view through the players eyes, with the controls being very accurate to players off-screen movements. The Kinect, from various reports is slightly less responsive with the Wii controls being touted as the most effective way to play the game with motion control. I also didn’t have much time to explore the online aspects of the game but gameplay is no different to the world tour or arcade mode.