Virtua Tennis 4 is the newest offering for Sega’s tennis franchise for the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii. It features the likenesses of actual tennis players on the championship circuits and gives you the option of playing as a custom character as well. The 360 version also has Kinect support for some light motion gameplay.
Virtua Tennis 4 offers a variety of standard tennis game types for you to play: World Tour, Arcade, Exhibition, Practise, Party, Xbox Live and Motion play. World Tour lets you create a character to customise and play from humble beginnings as a would-be athlete all the way to super stardom. Arcade is a knock-out tournament where you can earn points and medals for competing. Exhibition is a one off match where you can play locally with friends or against an AI opponent. Practise lets you test out your skills on the court without having to face an opponent. Party is a way of having fun while improving your game as you race against the timer to complete a level of a particular mini-game or lets you play with up to 3 friends. Xbox Live lets you play against opponents online anywhere in the world. Motion play is the chance to play either an exhibition match or one defence mini-game specially designed for Kinect only play.
The game is quite pleasant looking with a series of different courts and characters to look at. There are different court types with their own look which all looks as it should; clay and grass courts aren’t just colour changes. The characters are all nicely portrayed even if most of the time they are sweating madly. The character creator has mixed results as some of the features are noticeably ugly such as some of the hair styles but on the whole characters look fine. The menu screen is sometimes obstructed slightly as titles blend with the picture of the tennis star behind them; which is annoying when you’re trying to read about the mode. World tour does feature walls of text here and there which could have been replaced with audio or something to make you feel more connected. The ball leaves a blurred trail as it flies through the air but on the grass court this can be difficult to track if you’re playing on SD or HD without a HDMI cable.
Practise mode would normally be the place to start but in this case it has serving practise and some lessons on how to play. These are by no means a good replacement for a well thought out tutorial; the game can be quite unforgiving for anyone who hasn’t played a tennis game before and is still quite difficult for anyone used to more arcade-like tennis games. The lessons give a loose explanation on how to do something very specific but never tell you the button to press or what type of situation it would be good/ needed for. Balloons are placed in the court as a target for the lessons but never really help much as it still leaves everything to be explained. While taking a shot a glowing target will appear on the opposite side of the court so that you can see where you are aiming. This mode is really only for practising the preciseness of shots and nothing more; tutorials are non-existent and the only forgiving modes that you can play are world tour and some of the mini-games.
World Tour starts you off with creating a character or selecting a previously made character for a four season tour from rags to riches as your character starts off as a low tiered player who eventually works towards the top spots on the leaderboard. You can choose from three difficulties based on what sort of player you are: Casual, Experienced and Professional. The World Tour has a map which is a little like a board game; you move in turns trying to get to the tournament at the end of the season before the turns run out while trying to stop on spaces that have activities on them while missing the condition dropping ones. You start off with three tickets which have a number that determines how far you move that turn; with it giving you a new ticket in the next turn if you use one of the original three. There are many different spaces to land on: training spaces which consist of a single mini-game, exhibition matches of both single and doubles varieties, special matches that are played against well-known players, rest areas that regain you some condition, fan signings and charity events which gain you star rating, manager spaces let you purchase special tickets such as 1 and 2 space tickets, recovery tickets and more, tournament spaces consist of mini-tournaments and the final tournament. Taking part in any activity will increase your abilities on the court via stats (which is shown in an experience screen) and will drop your condition with your condition dropping multiple times in a tournament. If your condition is not recovered before it lowers to a certain point then your character will sustain an injury which will impair your character during events. The aim is to win star rating and win the tournament at the end of the season. Once you have completed the Tour you can play through again with only your star rating reset; so that you keep your characters stat progression, money etc. The beauty of World Tour is that it never puts you down like the arcade mode does when you lose as this more is all about improving yourself and doing better next time if you should fail.
Exhibition and Xbox Live modes both consist of multiplayer action with one being offline and both offering 2-4 player games. They give a wide selection of options to get the match you want; with AI difficulty, court type, sets to win, games to a set.
Arcade Mode is the classic old game style of competing against 5 opponents in succession and earning points along the way so that even if you clear it you have a score to compete with. There are 4 difficulty levels from easy to very hard which stand as a basis for the initial difficulty with the first opponent being the easiest to defeat and the final opponent being the most difficult. You earn points not only for winning but how you win with a tally at the end of each match showing how many points in the match were scored in a certain way eg. Super shot, smash, serve etc.
Motion Play is on the whole pretty weak; it has an exhibition mode and a party mode which consists of one game. The party mode has you defend 3 treasures from a horde of mummies; where you have balls fired at you so that you can return them and hit the mummies to defend the treasure through a series of waves. The exhibition mode is better but on the whole is pretty weak; you control only the racket and whether you want to go to the net or back. Most of the time you will hit the ball but the lack of ability to truly make a good shot will mean that you end up volleying before usually losing. There are 4 shot types that you can make, slice, topspin, lob and smash; that are performed by making different movements to hit the ball. Exhibition mode can be played with two players but the space needed to make it feasible is quite difficult to get hold of. Motion play has the makings of a good motion control but feels like it was tacked on last minute and should have a game dedicated to it for any real improvement to be made.
Party mode lets you and up to 3 friends play some mini-games which are all based on skills needed on the court. These mini-games also are the training exercises in the World Tour mode; the difference being in party you start at level one and progress to higher levels rather than choosing what level of difficulty to play. There is a reasonable selection with clay shooting and wind games being among the best while poker is the least interesting.
Presentation and Audio
Courts and tennis players all look reasonably good but custom characters have a few ugly features that just look bad. If you’re not running HD then the ball can sometime look blurry and hard to track with your eyes on the green court.
The core gameplay itself is pretty solid but make no mistake if you’ve never played a tennis game before it is terribly unforgiving due to the lack of a tutorial and easy difficulty that isn’t as easy as It should be. The Kinect gameplay is literally just tacked on and lacks substance; it may keep you amused for a while in exhibition mode but the party game is simply awful and lacks any sense of fairness.
There is plenty to do with World Tour taking most of your time as you play through all four seasons; while Party is there to let you play around a bit without having to be too serious. The arcade mode and the multiplayer will keep competitive players proving themselves against opponents online and reaching an ever higher point score to show off with.
It is a pleasant game and you can easily lose hours of time into the game; its less accessible than other sports games on the lowest difficulty and is much more accessible on higher difficulties if you can get used to the lower difficulties first. The lack of a tutorial or any guiding hand for you gameplay will leave you hard-pressed to get into the swing of things, but dedication and the much more forgiving World Tour make up for this.
Virtua Tennis 4 is the first realistic tennis game I have played; with Mario Tennis being my only previous tennis experience on the consoles which is much more arcade style gameplay and easier to learn and to master. I found the difficulty level astoundingly difficult to start with especially since there isn’t a tutorial and I watched my friend who has never played any tennis games before get frustrated at how difficult it is even on easy. Despite the problems with the difficulty it is a solid game when it comes down to it; the gameplay eases up a little with practise (not the mode) and it does give a lot to play around with. I highly recommend playing through the World Tour first as it does ease you in better than the rest of the game and it doesn’t mount any pressure on you at all. If you enjoy tennis games and want something to keep you occupied for a long while then this is for you but if you prefer arcade sports games or you’re not into tennis at all then give this a miss.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.