Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition Review
Game: Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition
Available on: PlayStation Vita only
I had a go on EA’s clinical new tennis sim mere days ago, which provided an excellent control scheme and some very professional presentation touches. Now it is the turn of Virtua Tennis 4, SEGA’s handheld conversion of the fourth instalment in their long running arcade style tennis franchise. It is a series that, whilst featuring some officially licensed players and some semblance of realistic racquet-on-balls action, has never shied away from its coin guzzling arcade roots. It worked terrifically well as a launch title for the PlayStation Portable, with Sumo Digital, who enjoyed a great run in the mid to late noughties with their work on the OutRun as well as the Virtua Tennis intellectual properties (as well as developing another PlayStation Vita launch title, F1 2011), creating a game that was perfect fodder whilst on the move. SEGA’s own AM3 studio is at the helm this time around, and has the benefit of a brand new console with some interesting tricks up its sleeve. Have they managed to deliver the definitive handheld tennis experience?
GRAPHICS: Some of the Vita launch titles have some scarily nice looking visuals, leading me to wonder just what the future has in store when developers really start squeezing every drop of juice out of it. Virtua Tennis is another lovely looking title, featuring perfect likenesses of the real-life players that move and ape the mannerisms of the players far more effectively than Grand Slam Tennis, for my money. Impressive court settings are complemented by some excellent camera options. You can use the classic “TV” style Virtua Tennis view or a closer camera behind your player, but also have the option to switch to a Dynamic view, which occasionally zooms in during particular actions, such as serving. It looks flashy, but when you are trying to concentrate on hitting the peak of the power meter to bang down a serve, it can be a little distracting. Even with the flamboyant Dynamic camera switched off, the game still has a tendency to slow down gameplay and suddenly zoom in when you are about to hit a particularly juicy stroke. This is overwhelmingly satisfying when your shot whizzes down the line and past your floundering opponent but can take your mind off of proceedings if somehow the opposing player manages an improbable return. This is a tiny complaint though. Like some of the other ported titles we have looked at across the Vita launch, this is pretty much indistinguishable from its console counterpart, and testament to the power of the hardware.
SOUND: Virtua Tennis has never been a game famed for its music, and this is another instalment stuffed with mediocre generic tunes. There are your usual array of perfunctory voice snippets (“Virtua Tennis…Foooour!”) meaty grunts, baleful female shrieks and the satisfying sound of expensive racquet on bouncing yellow sphere.
GAMEPLAY: Perfect in short bursts, but with an underlying depth, just like any good handheld title should be, Virtua Tennis 4 features compulsive arcade tennis action, supplemented by some interesting, if hit ‘n’ miss minigames and game modes.
Deciding which control method to use when embarking on my quest for tennis supremacy wasn’t difficult. Standard controls dictate that you move your player with the analog stick and access shots using the face buttons. This vanilla, tried and tested method is the original and best way to play this game. When you start looking into the additional touch controls, things get a bit silly. You can use a combination of the left analogue sticks and touch screen taps to direct your shots, but even with the glorious hugeness of the OLED screen you have to contend with a finger obscuring part of the screen as you try to manoeuvre into position to thwack the ball. The core of this game is not one that requires any use of a touch screen, and, as such, they should have left well alone. But there are probably some of you who will find this an interesting way to play. Once you have decided how you want to control your wee animated tennis guy (or gal!), there is plenty of stuff to do.
Arcade mode features short matches across the four main “Grand Slams”, culminating in a battle against one of the included legends, amongst them Wimbledon winners Edberg, Courier and Boris Becker, whoring himself out to the second tennis game in as many months. You can play arcade mode in singles or doubles mode, which is nice.
World Tour mode makes a welcome return, and involves creating a player using a set of customisable parameters, and then embarking on a five-season career where you can travel to different destinations and tournaments using tour tickets, and level up the abilities of your tennis ace by playing the usual mind bending array of crazy Virtua Tennis minigames. This time around you will find yourself smashing crockery, rounding up chickens and, of course, knocking down pins using the power and accuracy of your serve, amongst other things. Winning matches wins you medals and sweet, sweet cash, which you can then spend on snazzy equipment or new tickets to far flung destinations. There are other cool touches, like the way you can turn on an option to encounter other real-life, online VT players during the course of your tour, which spices things up a bit.
The character creation section provided perhaps my one main bugbear with the entire game. Like Reality Fighters, Virtua Tennis allows you to take a picture of your own face, and then see it grafted onto your avatar. Unlike Reality Fighters, getting the right picture is as difficult as playing snooker with a rope, there appears to be no rhyme or reason to proceedings, other than a set of lines which it asks you to contain your face within. I tried several times, I asked my missus to take the picture for me, and every time I ended up with my potential Grand Slam winner looking more like Joseph Merrick. Luckily you can create a player using pre-loaded on facial features, which is how I ended up creating my 6ft 11, hulking mega-player.
Minigames can be played as standalone affairs, and there are some new Vita specific add-ons, which, while interesting, serve primarily as tech demos; there are some high spots though. Touch VS is a pong-esque game which allows two players to play using one console, with a top down view and each player using one end of the console. It is fun to play and reminds me of similar experiments on the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS back in the day. Rock The Boat is a queasy affair which involves using the gyro to tilt a target-laden swinging pirate ship back and forth as your player runs around attempting to hit it with shots. VR Match is perhaps the most aesthetically impressive of the Vita exclusives, enabling you to play from a first person perspective, with full control of the camera to look wherever you want during a match. Of course, it is nigh on impossible to play to any decent sort of standard, but it gives you some idea of how you might feel with some lanky powerhouse hitting a high octane serve straight at you.
As well as meeting the various denizens of the internet and their creations during World Tour mode, you can also match-make with satisfying efficiency, just like the PS3 and Xbox versions of the game it is easy to sort out lag-free Ranked or Player matches, and further testament to just how well equipped this little console is to handle online play. Given how close this is to the original, it is baffling that the much vaunted cross platform play wasn’t included. Something for a future downloadable patch, perhaps?
LONGEVITY: World Tour Mode will take several hours to play through, and is the meat of the game. I would question how much you would want to repeat this exercise for, however. The minigames are fun in the most part, and I enjoyed grinding my way through and levelling up my attributes during the tour, and even enjoying a casual bit of Pin Smasher which is perfect tea break stuff. Arcade Mode, with its varying difficulty levels, is a fair challenge on the harder settings, and it is decidedly tricky beating the Legends and of course the series mainstays the King and Queen of Tennis.
VERDICT: This is unquestionably the best handheld tennis game yet seen, it provides a perfect portable conversion of an already great console title, and is perfect for bite-sized, on the move gaming. The minigames and the nature of the World Tour mode actually make this more suited to the Vita than the grown up consoles. Don’t expect a completely accurate simulation of tennis with the nuanced stroke-making of a Top Spin or Grand Slam Tennis, but do expect heaps of fun, simple online interface, silly sideshow games, and gorgeous visual flourishes. Oh, and if someone fancies telling me how to optimise a picture of my bleedin’ face, get in touch using the usual outlets, m’kay?