Virtua Tennis 4 Review (Xbox 360)
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In the waning days of the Dreamcast, Virtua Tennis was my go-to sports game. It featured great graphics, compelling multiplayer, a surprising and varied career mode and, most importantly, simple and fun gameplay.
Now, roughly 10 years later, Virtua Tennis 4 arrives on modern consoles. I would claim that it contains all of the aforementioned components. Unfortunately, those are not quite enough to make it a game I would highly reccomend, especially if you’ve played a previous version of the game.
Virtua Tennis features, and has always featured, a very simple and intuitive control scheme. Each face button represents a different shot type, including lobs and slices, and the position of your shot is controlled via an analog stick. The strength of the shot is ultimately determined by your player’s position and the timing of your shot. If you are in place and execute a well-timed shot, things tend to go well (and vice versa).
It is the simplicity of this scheme that is ultimately the downfall of the gameplay. It is relatively unchanged from any other Virtua Tennis games you may have played. Additionally, because it is so dependant on your timing and position, you may feel cheated from time to time. There is simply not a lot of control placed in your hands. Furthermore, the game’s arcade roots show in its leniency. For example, rarely do you hit a ball out of bounds.
There is a meter that fills up, depending on your player’s natural skill, and it contributes to “super shots.” These shots are carried out automatically, but they don’t seem to have much of a payoff, other than by showing off some on the fly camera effects.
All of this tends to make matches feel rather repetitive, especially for long-time vets of the series.
The game is relatively impressive to look at, at least in terms of the TV-like camera. In other words, the camera angle you would see during a TV broadcast is similar to what you will see here. Courts are nicely rendered, and the crowds are adequately detailed. Replays are a nice touch, and I like the way the super shots are handled visually. Player animations aren’t bad either, outside of repetitive celebrations.
However, things tends to breakdown up close, with very strange looking player models, clothing and faces all standing out. These elements are not the worst I have seen in games, but they do detract from the overall look of the game. But, since most of the game is locked in the pulled-back camera by default, these distractions are minimal.
This game does support the Kinect on the 360 (and Move on the PS3). My experience with it was not good, however. I never felt that I was truly in control of my shot placement, whether it was because of game or the Kinect itself. It’s also a bit odd to use your entire hand to represent a racquet. This seems like one of the rare instances where a Wii remote or the Move controller seems like a more natural fit.
I spent most of my time in the Career mode, which is actually an interesting and fully unique mode. Because the gameplay gets a little dry, though, it is not that addicting, and it’s user interface could be more friendly.
Basically, you begin by creating a player using a limited creation system. From there, it’s almost like playing “The Game of Life.” You are given move tickets that allow you to advance a certain number of spaces on the “board.” Each space carries a certain event, from empty spaces to mini-games to small and large tournaments.
As you progress through this path using your tickets -- comparable to dice rolls -- you level up your character and earn special skills and outfits. It’s not nearly as refined or as complex as other career modes (like Tiger Woods), but the “board game” concept is interesting.
However, planning what ticket to use requires you to bounce between the map and main menu. Certain training modes and your outfit selection are also buried in this menu, which isn’t always quick to load.
It is also possible to miss tournaments or events because you don't have the right ticket, though Mario Party-like store spaces allow you to buy specific ones. Energy is also a factor that needs to be balanced, but the effects on my character were not readily apparent.
The game would not be Virtua Tennis without the crazy mini-games that have defined the game since its inception. In Virtua Tennis 4, they are appropriately silly, and mostly fun. My favorite has your player collecting eggs strewn about the court. Upon collection, they hatch into chicks, which follow you around, not unlike a game like Snake. Your job is to deliver the newly hatched chicks to the mother hens sitting on either sideline. Meanwhile, basketballs are being lobbed at you and your charges.
Virtua Tennis 4 is a decent arcade tennis game, but the developers have not quite tweaked the formula enough to make this game a truly unique experience. The Career mode is fun in its own right, but I soon grew tired of it, primarily based on the repetitive, and ultimately shallow, gameplay. If you are a casual tennis fan and, most importantly, have never played a Virtua Tennis game, you will probably like what’s here. If you are a more discerning fan or have previous experience, you most likely will want to skip this one.
Learning Curve: Easy, too easy. A great game for parties since it does not take long to learn.
Control Scheme: Relatively unchanged, the scheme does work. However, it really just leads to a lack of depth.
Visuals: Great graphics and camera effects, especially from the default camera view.
Audio: The music is uninspiring, and the ambiance and court sounds could be better.
Online: Limited to ranked and unranked matches. My experience was relatively lag-free.
Score: 5.0 (Average)