In the war of the tennis franchises, Virtua Tennis has always been a safe haven for those who favour ‘pick up and play’ arcade blasts rather than a deep, tactical control system. Often seen as the series’ strength, it’s also Virtua Tennis’ Achilles heel – how do you improve on something that has been perfected and streamlined? Enter Virtua Tennis 4…
It has been two years since we have seen a Virtua Tennis game, which is an absolute age in the world of sports games. The big deal this year is the addition of Kinect and Move support, and if there is any sport that should benefit from motion control it is tennis.
TSA has managed to get hold of a both a PS3 and Xbox 360 copy of the game and we have pit them head to head in a battle to the death. Blood was spilled, TVs were smashed, and the whole team dressed up in the shortest of shorts to recreate that old school authentic experience.
I guess now is the time for a little disclaimer. Both versions of the game were played by the same person, using exactly the same amount of living-room area. Kinect and Move were recalibrated specifically for this test, so it was even stevens. Our first proper multiplatform Kinect Vs. Move face-off was given the green light.
First up was the oft derided Kinect camera, with the package boldly proclaiming that Virtua Tennis 4 is “better with Kinect.” Unfortunately, and there is no way to sugar-coat it, this statement is an absolute fallacy. Kinect has been out for several months now, and Dance Central has paved the way for speedy, intuitive user interfaces. In light of this, the fact that developers still insist on using the incredibly slow and frustrating ‘hover your hand over the icon’ method is completely baffling. This is hardly the best first impression.
Unfortunately the dodgy menu screens become the highlight of the whole Kinect package as the experience deteriorates once you hit the court. Of all the games that were played not once did Kinect properly map my arm to the on-screen tennis racquet. It’s imprecise and poorly executed, which is made all the more galling by the fact that the potential is clearly there. Is it the fault of the Kinect camera? Perhaps, but other Kinect specific games have managed tasks such as this with no issues at all.
The problems are worsened further by a camera that swoops from first person to third person after every shot, disorientating the player and making shots even more awkward to pull off. Overall it’s a wasted opportunity to show-off Kinect to a more core crowd.
With Kinect down and out, it was up to Sony’s Move to rescue the pride of motion controlled gaming, and do you know what, it comes pretty darn close. To start with the user interface is fast, and leagues ahead of what Kinect brought to the table.
It’s on the court where Move really shines though, as its accuracy reigns supreme. Remember all those assumptions of what Wii Tennis would be like back in 2006? Well, this is what that game should have been. As with the Kinect version the computer takes control of moving your character, leaving you in charge of performing shots. Whilst I am unsure if it is true 1:1 mapping, it feels close enough and, more importantly, it’s a lot of fun – personally it had me grinning like a loon.
The camera also behaves itself a lot more when using Move, allowing the player to practice with the eventual aim of increasing the AI difficulty level. It’s not perfect, and will occasionally have a funny moment, but it’ll leave you wanting one more go.
It’s a pity then that motion control is so heavily restricted, to the point where you are only allowed to play exhibition matches in a special motion control mode. Those with visions of conquering the tennis world, Move in hand, will be sorely disappointed. In all honestly Kinect users aren’t missing out on much, but taking on the World Tour with Move would have been absolutely epic.
So with both Kinect and Move put away, it was time to crack out the old faithful control pad. Any of you that have played a Virtua Tennis game before will feel completely at home with one shot each being mapped to a controller face button. The antithesis of Top Spin 4’s control scheme, both novice and pro alike can pick up Virtua Tennis 4 and engage in a pretty competitive match.
The power of your serve is dictated by a bar which appears when you start the serve, giving you the choice of aiming for a ‘max’ serve, and hopefully an ace, or something with a little less power to take the opponent by surprise.
A new addition to the Virtua Tennis series is the ‘Super Shot’. There is a bar at the top of screen that fills very slowly, and once it is full there is a chance your player will pull off a Super Shot, which is extremely powerful and comes with its own slow motion camera wizardry.
The vast chunk of your time in Virtua Tennis 4 will be spent in the World Tour mode. This sees you hopping from country to country winning all manner of exhibition matches and tournaments whilst playing mental mini-games to level up your character. Before starting this mode you must create a character using the fairly in-depth creation tool.
Straight away, in my eyes at least, World Tour has a pretty frustrating flaw. The World Tour map is set out like a board game, but rather than moving from event to event you are restricted by ‘move tokens’. For example, if you have a move token with ‘2’ on you can only move ahead two spaces, whether you like it or not.
Whilst this doesn’t sound too bad it potentially means you miss out on a lot of content. An example of this would be me missing out on an entire tournament because I needed a ‘1’ token, but only had a ‘2’ so I skipped straight past. I was also offered the chance to partner with a famous tennis star, but because I couldn’t land on the relevant spot I got a snotty email telling me not to bother. Of course, this also means you lose out on much needed stars which are used to automatically qualify yourself into large events (if you can ever reach one). It feels messy. Worse than that, it feels unnecessary and at times there are periods of twenty minutes or more where you can’t even play any tennis because you’re messing about on the map.
Scattered throughout every country are a handful of mini-games (eight in total) which are used to earn money and improve the conditioning of your character. These are as enjoyable as ever, and range from rescuing chicks (the “cluck cluck” kind) to playing tennis with a bomb. It’s a nice diversion, but much more actual tennis is needed.
Outside of the World Tour mode is the Arcade mode. This sees you control a famous member of the tennis world as you compete in tournaments. It’s here where Virtua Tennis 4’s smooth control scheme shines through, and it’s good to see that they have seriously toned down the players diving across the court that plagued Virtua Tennis 2009. If you fancy just some one on one matches using famous players then there is an Exhibition mode which caters for that as well.
The opponent AI is balanced nicely, with normal difficulty providing a decent challenge without resorting to the computer just spamming power shots. Unfortunately any doubles partners you come across in the game are inconsistent, and in one set they will play like Nadal, whilst in others they will play like Nadal’s rubbish cousin, Bob.
The game also has an online component, as is the norm these days, and it is an enjoyable diversion that ran as smooth as silk during the matches I played.
Visually Virtua Tennis 4 is the very definition of the term ‘solid’. Whilst it’s never bad, it very rarely raises pulses, or even a smile, and isn’t a huge leap over Virtua Tennis 2009. The animation is great though, and the famous players all have their little real world celebrations. The game also has some of the most unfortunate sweat effects in the history of everything ever, as whoever coded it in made the sweat white tinged. This leads to the rather bizarre, and shocking, sight of your player covered from head to toe in a white…substance.
- Looks solid
- A long lasting World Tour mode
- Move is great
- Accessible controls
- Kinect is awful
- Restricted motion control mode
- The World Tour ‘board game’ concept
- The mystery white substance
Overall the score for Virtua Tennis 4 is almost irrelevant. For every person who hates the board game World Tour concept, there will be someone who loves it and will be cursing this review. If you enjoyed previous Virtua Tennis games then you will more than likely enjoy this one too, just be aware that Top Spin 4 is far and away the better tennis game. An eight, but only just.