17th July 2011 - Viruta Tennis 4 is the third title in the series released on XBOX 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii. Published by Sega and developed by SEGA-AM3 / Sumo Digital what does Sega's newest entry bring to the table and does the added Playstation Move functionality make this worthwhile purchasing?
Virtua Tennis 4 delivers the standard game modes we've been accustomed to, Arcade, Online and World Tour mode. Playstation Move support is a separate mode which I'll discuss later on. There is also a Party mode which lets you play the various mini-games found in the World Tour mode.
The basic arcade tennis roots are still present though Sega has given it a few tweaks so your characters don't keep diving all about the place. Shot play seems to be a bit more realistic with some unforced errors coming from your racquet should your character's skill levels not be high enough to properly control hard hitting shots from your opponents. The controls are your typical Virtua Tennis fashion, you have buttons for slices, topspin and lobs which change in intensity and angle based on how long you hold down the button down before hitting the ball and how long you hold left/right and up/down to control how deep you hit the ball.
Sega has added tennis play styles which represents the discernable play styles present in modern tennis these days, the all-rounder style, those who favour certain strokes (such as forehands, backhands) and serve & volley players. New to the Virtua Tennis series is a "power shot" bar which slowly builds up as you keep hitting strokes which align with your tennis "play style", eg. if your style is all about hard hitting forehands, continuously hitting forehands during a match will increase your power bar until you can launch a super shot. Upon activation you'll see a slow-mo effect as your character hits the "perfect" shot. It is possible to return these shots (and the computer often does at higher levels) but it does have a higher percentage chance of being a winner. This adds some tactical depth to your traditional tennis game as you can force your opponent to play a certain style they aren't used to and unleash a power shot to seal a crucial point.
One thing I noticed was when playing doubles, I can't direct my partner what doubles style we'd like to play anymore like I could in previous games. Also sometimes it can be frustrating as my partner just suddenly decides they don't want to go for a ball and hope I swing at it. Even worse is when they decide to switch sides suddenly, perhaps its Sega trying to emulate real life doubles matches.
The world tour mode has had a major overhaul this time round. The world is now broken into four set tennis seasons (corresponding to each of the world's major tournaments, Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open). The world is now a giant game board and you use "tickets" to navigate through the world. Your character progresses in a variety of statistics which unlocks game styles that you can select and there are a variety of events you can land on from vacation/rest stops, mini games and fan orientated events where you earn stars. Character progression is measured by statistics growth (enabling you to run faster, hit harder and hit shots with greater angles) and by popularity measured in "stars". This is Virtua Tennis's way of implementing player rankings and some tournaments you'll encounter will require you to reach a certain minimum "star" level before you can enter.
Personally, I didn't like this World Tour revamp and unlocking additional clothes and racquets only serve as a cosmetic change this time round. The mini-games, trademark of the Virtua Tennis series are all brand new and are nice crazy ways of emphasizing training in core tennis mechanics, from serving accuracy, ground stroke accuracy and court movement. The mini-games are all fun to play and a fun distraction.
Entering tournaments involves the game dumping you either into the quarter finals or semi finals round (whilst major tournaments force you through qualifying rounds should you not meet the pre-requisite ranking requirements). I felt the World Tour mode this time round not as satisfying to play because once your character finally starts making some decent skills progress, the year is over and you're brought to an abrupt end. You can start another tour but your rankings resets to zero. I also felt the AI to be very uneven. Playing against lower ranked players was a chore and a cakewalk, as most points could be put away with one or two shots whilst playing equal or higher ranked players became a grueling marathon with the computer having psychic knowledge where the ball was going to land before I hit it.
Soon I was left in a weird limbo situation where I'd be able to blitz the qualifiers but once I entered the main draw the AI difficulty ramped up and returned all my shots and then some. Perhaps I just described the feeling the current Australian tennis players are feeling in the real world so maybe it isn't so bad. It doesn't feel that satisfying destroying a lowly ranked tennis player when all they did to my backhand return was look at it then tried to stretch for it as it was just passing them on the other side of the court. It is as if they couldn't be bothered and made a lazy swing in the air. The extreme difficulty swings mean it is a bore to clear through the early rounds against brain dead opponents only to get stopped in the finals by players who can seemingly return everything. Soon after I didn't feel like my character growth was that noticeable and even after I leveled up in my ground strokes a few times, it didn't feel like I could hit it harder with more precision.
Onto the Playstation Move support which is strangely an exhibition match affair (perhaps Virtua Tennis 5 will have proper Move support in the main game?). It is set up similarly to Wii Tennis, you set up a quick match, pick which side of the court you are playing and if it is singles or doubles and away you go. The actual implementation of the Move is quite good, you can actually rotate and angle your move controller to hit slices and top spin shots and it'll actually translate on screen. Movement is taken care for you just like Wii Tennis style. Don't think you can get away with it Wii Tennis style though, where it is all about timing your shot, you do actually have to swing it with good force and pansy wrist flicking just isn't going to cut it. Overall it plays pretty decently and the first person view is mostly workable. This game mode feels slightly tacked on and I guess if it didn't work out Sega could've just said oh well, at least it is only the Move exhibition mode that sucks and not the main game.
Due to the PSN outage I was not able to review the online game play.
Unfortunately I was not able to test out the 3D effects supported by Virtua Tennis 4. The standard 2D graphics however still look pretty nice. Trademark to the series the character animation and fluidity is still top notch but after all these years, it really hasn't changed that much, even when you look back at Virtua Tennis on the Sega Dreamcast. Character animations (especially poses after they win a point) are still quite limited and it is quite eerie when you are playing doubles and both you and your partner perform the same winning victory animation in sync.
The various tennis courts all look quite good and the frame rate is rock solid. All in all its a good looking game but you just can't shake the feeling you've seen this all before, in Virtua Tennis 2009, Virtua Tennis 3 etc.
Sounds within Virtua Tennis 4 mostly comprises of grunts and squeals coming from the tennis players and the umpires voices sound very similar to previous Virtua Tennis titles. The background music is pretty standard fare and easily forgotten. Musical style I’d have to liken it to.
Virtua Tennis 4 brings some new game modes, a fresh take on the world tour, online play and a fun party mode to enjoy the mini games. Ultimately though, if you owned any of the previous Virtua Tennis games (VT 2009, Virtua Tennis 3) don't expect a massive overhaul. This is mostly a slightly tweaked version of what we've played the past few years. The motion controller support is pretty good and a fun diversion but is regulated as a diversion. I wouldn't consider this to be the game that you had to buy because you own a Playstation Move.
A solid entry in the Virtua Tennis series that is more accessible than Top Spin 4. It is starting to get a bit stale however and the feeling of sameness is starting to creep. It does have an updated roster of professional players and the Playstation 3 does contain some classic tennis players as exclusive content. I was disappointed World Tour was overhauled for the worst in my opinion but the underlying game play, graphics and mini games are all enjoyable and worthy to be in a Virtua Tennis series.
AAG SCORE: 7/10
+ Solid frame rate, smooth animations, good graphics
+ Playstation Move controls responsive and just as good as Wii Tennis
+ New play style system adding an extra tactical edge
- World Tour mode less enjoyable with the new board game mechanics
- Character Progression in World Tour mode less noticable
- Motion Control play a tacked on addition
Reviewed and written by Danny Yee