Home | News | Reviews | Previews | Hardware
Virtua Tennis 4
Score: 70%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4; 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Tennis)

Graphics & Sound:
Virtua Tennis 4 finds itself in the awkward position. It's a long-running series with a fan base that expects a certain style of play. At the same time, there's the pressure associated with motion controls, which have led to a near complete reformat of how sports games are played. The result is an awkward mix of both that doesn't completely disappoint, but doesn't excite.

Player models offer a great visual representation of what gameplay offers. Real-life players look as close to real as possible and, at least in still images, never fail to impress. In motion, however, there's a disturbing lack of emotion on player faces. There are subtle attempts to imbue players with "life," though the end result is an uncomfortable plunge into the uncanny valley. At least the bigger on-the-court animations pick up some of the slack, as do the lighting and courts.

Audio is limited primarily to short yells and grunts, which is expected. Anything more would be overkill. Music will, like the World Tour, appeal to some and annoy others. Sega decided to stick with the peppy, synthesized sounds from past games. I have a soft spot for older game music, so I enjoyed it. Fans expecting a more contemporary set of licensed tracks will, however, leave let down.

World Tour, Virtua Tennis 4's career mode, leaves little middle ground; players will either enjoy it or loathe it. The setup is actually rather ingenious and fits the series' style perfectly. Rather than follow a season calendar, your character's career is mapped to a board game. Each of the four major Tours occupies one of four quadrants linked by event paths. The basic idea is to get your character into as many tournaments as possible. The path between tournaments is spiked with various exhibition games, mini-games and other career-related events, like fan signings. Completing these events earns stars, which factor into your rating. To compete in tournaments, you need to achieve a certain star rating.

The system is neat. It's more strategy-dependant than other career modes and different. It's also not much fun. Movement is based on playing move cards, which are akin to die rolls. Each turn you play one card, which is where the strategy comes into play. The system also adds a few crippling restrictions. The entire system is based on luck of the draw; it is entirely possible to miss out on events because you didn't draw the right card.

You also end up playing more mini-games than tennis matches. Every mini-game is built around a tennis skill, so you're still learning something, but some are just too silly to take seriously. In one game, you need to collect eggs on the court, hatch them and bring them back to the hen without losing a chick to a tennis ball being fired down the court. It's funny, yet incredibly bizarre. You'll also come across "Fancy Dress" matches where you need to dress in goofy costumes. It's all in good fun, but a bit of a turnoff when you just want to play tennis.

As you progress through matches, you'll earn experience points to upgrade your character. After hitting certain point milestones in each stat category, you unlock new styles, offering new on court abilities. As is the case with most game elements, the concept is solid, but lacks any follow-through or sturdy connection to the gameplay.

Outside World Tour there's Arcade, where you face off against various opponents in a five-game tournament. This is where the game is at its best. It's a lot of fun and sticks to the real reason you're playing the game in the first place.

Both ranked and unranked matches are available online, but due to month-long issues with PSN, I wasn't able to spend much time with the mode.

Virtua Tennis 4 constantly bounces between challenging and frustrating. Also, A.I. controlled opponents rarely make a mistake and will pull off even the hardest of shots with expert precision and Jedi-like reflexes. Every opponent has some sort of weakness, so they're not flawless. Once you find the right strategy, however, you're forced to stick to that one strategy for the rest of the match.

For players who need a quick refresher on the controls, or just want to practice with a net, there's a short Tutorial. Even if you're a newcomer, you're probably better off jumping into a quick exhibition match. The mechanics aren't hard to grasp and incredibly forgiving.

Game Mechanics:
Even with fancy visual upgrades and the addition of motion controls, Virtua Tennis 4 is still the game players will remember from 1999. In fact, motion controls are such a small part of the experience it is a little odd that they were added at all. PlayStation Move is only enabled during offline exhibition matches and in two mini-games; the rest of the time you're left with a standard control setup.

Virtua Tennis has always been about your position on the court, and Virtua Tennis 4 is no different. The three basic shot types -- top spin, slice, and lob -- are mapped to the face buttons and angled/ directed with the Left Analog Stick. Depending on where you are on the court, you can perform additions shots, like volleys or power shots. The system is incredibly easy to learn and even players who know little about tennis should be able to jump in and begin playing. As long as you are near the ball and hit the button at the right time, you should be fine.

On one hand, the setup is great; Virtua Tennis 4 is very newcomer friendly. At the same time, there's an amazing lack of depth to the mechanics once you get them down. You have to get the timing down right, so shots aren't automatic. However, even if you're just close to the ball, you'll return it (though it will be weak). It's fun for a few matches and that's it.

Another new feature are Super Shots. After filling an on-screen meter, you can perform a Super Shot, which are character-specific "signature shots." Although they come with a nice bit of visual flair, they aren't a marked improvement over normal shots, particularly for the amount of time it takes for the meter to fill.

It's hard to not see Move support as a last minute addition. Aside from the limited implementation, you're restricted to swings similar to Wii Sports. The swing mechanics feel right. It's not exactly "just like the real thing," but it is close enough to be fun. The drawback is you need a lot of space.

Though I wouldn't label Virtua Tennis 4 terrible, I wouldn't call it good either. There are a few really good ideas, though there's nothing holding those ideas together. I can see where the developers are trying to go, though Virtua Tennis 4 doesn't have enough in the tank to get there.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Related Links:

This site best viewed in Internet Explorer 6 or higher or Firefox.