Virtua Tennis 4

PS3 (also 360 & Wii)

You really wouldn’t want to be a developer for a tennis game. It has to be one of the most difficult games to produce on a yearly basis, which is probably why this has taken three years to follow in the tennis shoe steps of Virtua Tennis 2009. After all, the basis of the game has been the same since its Pong days back in the seventies, consisting of two bats and a ball.

There was probably a heavy sigh of relief from developers when the Move controller and Kinect were announced, both of which have been introduced in one shape or another in this iteration of the game, as has 3D for the man at the back sitting on his own with the 3D TV. But what else can you expect the Virtua Tennis team to serve up?

The biggest, and perhaps in truth the only, surprise the game delivers is its Career mode. The fact that it has one is certainly no surprise, but what they’ve done with it is. Take your standard Career mode – play your way up through the rankings, play exhibition matches etc – and mix it with the classic board game Monopoly and you’re virtually there. It sounds a curious and somewhat peculiar mix and it is. It also just feels wrong.

boom reviews - Virtua Tennis 4 image
If this is the only way I'l ever win Wimbledon, then so be it.

The idea is based around tickets. Each ticket has a value from one to four on it. You get at least one random ticket given to you every move you make. If you have two tickets – one ‘2’ and one ‘4’, means that you can progress along the map either two spaces forward or four. Each stop can be anything from a mini-game, mini-tournament, a rest-stop, major tournament etc. It could also be a forfeit of some kind. You then have to make your way through the circuit accumulating as many stars (which you win from said mini-games, tournaments etc). If you have enough stars, you can enter a major tournament; if you don’t, you have to skip it and move on down the tour. The winner is the player with most property on the board. Or something like that. If there was an award for making a simple game like tennis a convoluted mess, then Sega should definitely win it.

The upshot of it is, is that your forced to do things you wouldn’t normally want to do, as there’s no way of rejecting the choice you land on. So if you’re not a fan of the mini-games, this particular Career mode is not for you.

If you’re a bit of a purist, all is not lost however, as there’s also just a good old arcade mode where you just get to play tennis. Genius.

As far as the Move features are concerned, fans of the glowing knob should be warned; there’s actually only one mode available to the Move controller. This means that the entire career mode and arcade mode are off limits for the Move completely. This is a real shame as the Motion Play mode is extremely limiting, playing out as it does like a version of the tennis game in Wii Sports. Gamers should have been given the option to play through the other modes using the controller. Although perhaps it’s best that they don’t; despite playing the game was initially fun at first, we were surprised to feel a tad unwell from motion sickness, as there’s a really noticeable wave on the screen with the ball bouncing back and forth over the net.

Thankfully though, the developers at least had the good sense not to mess around with the actually gaming mechanics. Unlike the recent Top Spin 4 and its awkward rhythm- style control system , this game sticks with the tried and tested power meter. And unlike previous Virtua Tennis titles, you won’t get through every tournament just pressing the one button. This means that to beat the best, and it has all the big names old and new, you will need to use both slice and top spin to win.

Sega might not have made the ball that much rounder than usual, but there certainly appears to be more of it. With every single shot you get a yellow comet effect trailing from the ball. The ball really isn’t travelling that fast that you need give it a visible tail every time you hit the damn thing. An option to turn this effect off would have been welcome.

As far as the players are concerned, there likenesses are all intact. Still, they haven’t reached the jaw-dropping level of realism that has been reached in say LA Noire, but their surely saving that gem up for game number 5 or 6.

What they really needed to take a little longer with are the shots of the players sweating. In some cases the players, somewhat embarrassingly, look like they’ve just been the recipient of a bukkake attack before arriving on court. Just as well there are so many towels on hand. If this is what it means to play the cream of tennis, we’d rather give it a miss, thank you very much.

Virtua Tennis 4 is sadly yet another example of a game that’s been overly tweaked. Thankfully the game play is pretty much intact, but all the extra unnecessary gubbins they’ve thrown in only gets in the way of you playing tennis. It’s definitely a far superior game to its predecessor, but they definitely bounced the ball far more times than they need to.

three out of five