|System: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii|
|Release: May 10, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Comic Mischief|
by Sean Engemann
Tennis game developers have a hard job. The tennis game may follow a pretty simple formula, but as such requires a greater number of features and extras in order to have a lasting appeal and avoid the inevitable monotony of the back and forth gameplay. While Sega tries its hand with the latest game in their arcade series, Virtua Tennis 4, the overall product has noticeable flaws in every aspect.
After firing up the game, the first thing you'll want to do is peruse the professionals. So you pop into an exhibition match, but are quickly disappointed with the mere handful you have to choose from. While the expected greats like Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Caroline Wozniacki, and Maria Sharapova are present, the sparse showing and lack of legends (save for Jim Courier and a Boris Becker-led trio found only on the PS3) will no doubt leave you underwhelmed. Looking for rejuvenation, you move on to the venue selection, but are deflated again upon finding only eight to choose from; the rest are all locked. Even after they become available, no licensing agreements were made, so while you may seek glory as the Wimbledon champion, you're not actually playing Wimbledon.
The game has an abbreviated Practice Mode, where you'll get quick lessons on serves, swing types, and ball placement. You'll also learn about Super Shots, a feature designed to separate Virtua Tennis 4 from other tennis simulation games. The problem is that there's nothing truly "super" about the shot. You build up the meter by playing according to your style, and once it's full, you can perform a shot with a little more power behind it. Even though it gets the slow motion/close-up treatment, it's still not impossible to return.
Exhibition is the quickest way to get into a match against the computer or a friend. There are very few control nuances you'll have to worry about, so it's all a matter of moving to the ball and picking your shot. Fortunately, Sega has improved this formula since Virtua Tennis 2009, and diving for a ball only two feet away is no longer a worry. On the contrary, returning the ball is almost too forgiving, as pressing the shot button at an expected miss will often move your character into position to connect with the ball. Faster and harder shots are more difficult to return, and there are strategic elements in using the top spin, slice, power, and lob shots to maximize your success. While taking your stance and winding up, you can use the analog stick to place your shot. Slices are the most accurate shot choice, but unless you go overboard with your placement on a hard return, you'll usually end up inside the court. Actually, I found many instances where my serve was clearly out, but the line judge shockingly failed to notice. With no way to overturn a call, you'll get away with this over and over.
When you need a break from standard matches, head on over to the Party Mode. Here you'll find several minigames, all of which break the standard tennis conventions. As with most minigame collections, some are better than others. The zaniest of all is the Egg Collector, which has you hatch chicken eggs by running over them, then guide them to their mother hens on either the right or left side of the court before they are squashed by oncoming tennis balls. The Bomb Match is also a treat, especially with a friend, as you volley a large time bomb like a hot potato, trying to make sure it's in your opponent's side of the court when the timer reaches zero.
The World Tour is the main course of the game. You start by creating a character, which you can customize to some extent, but you don't really have the full range of tools to create the off-the-wall characters you'd expect in Virtua Tennis. Your player then begins his or her first season of four, trying to rise in rank by doing well in matches, participating in training sessions (which are just minigames slapped onto the campaign), and completing publicity events. The world is turned into a giant (and extremely linear) game board, where you use a supply of random movement tickets in place of dice to navigate the globe. While definitely a unique way to work up the tennis ladder, it comes with drawbacks. First, you must analyze the map and strategize your path, but you'll often not have the necessary numbered ticket to reach your target. In fact, you can miss major tournaments because of this. Most events yield a monetary gain, which you can use at the management office—if you land on it, that is—to purchase various tickets. Cash is also used to purchase gear in the Kit Catalogue, but each item must first be unlocked by completing objectives during the tour. You'll find yourself doing more training sessions and publicity events than actual matches. With each only lasting a minute or so, they're hard to get into and more of a nuisance when all you want to do is play tennis. Overall, the board design is an interesting concept, but when the movement strategizing overshadows the tennis playing, you'll wonder if Sega should have gone in a different direction.