As predictably as a British wildcard crashing out valiantly in the early stages of Wimbledon comes Virtua Tennis 4. “Another Virtua Tennis game?” you say. Ah, but this one’s different, and not just because it features PlayStation Move and Microsoft Kinect functionality. Is Virtua Tennis 4 the best in the series yet? Read our review to find out…
Virtua Tennis 4 throws up a couple of surprises – one of which has us wagging our index finger in Sega’s direction. You see, Virtua Tennis 4 is being billed as the first deep tennis experience to support Microsoft Kinect and PlayStation Move. The earlier impression left on us was that it was the addition of these motion controls that would make Virtua Tennis 4 the definitive tennis game. How wrong we were.
Yes, Virtua Tennis 4 does support both Move and Kinect controls, but in relegating both to exhibition mode, and the mini-games, Sega has not fully committed to either. We hate to use the phrase “tacked on”, but…
Thankfully there is a whole lot more to convince us of Virtua Tennis 4′s case to be the series best yet, but what about those motion controls?
We played Virtua Tennis 4 on both Xbox 360 and PS3 using Kinect and Move. In truth, there is little between the two, despite the obvious physical differences - one you hold a controller, the other you don’t. However, pressed, we’d say that the PlayStation Move controls just feel more ‘right’.
Motion-matches are controlled in the first-person perspective in an on-rails fashion. The 1:1 motion controls are clearly at work, as you can see your racket twisting and turning to your wrist movements. Selecting shot types and performing them works well.
Back and forehand shots and slices can be played effectively by mimicking the relevant technique. Even the Kinect version impressively registers whether you’re holding your palm at an angle for a slice, or facing outward for a forehand shot.
See our best PS3 games Top 5 here
Despite being the best motion-controls found in a tennis title, they aren’t perfect. An inability to quickly adjust your shot will have real-life tennis players scoffing into their Pimms.
Precise shot placement is still elusive. Hitting to the extreme opposite ends of the court at will? No problem. Performing eye-of-the-needle Murray-esque drop shots that glide just over the net and land well before the service line? Pot luck.
The inability to alter perspective from the first-person one on offer also grates, as does not being able to use motion controls in the World Tour Mode, though in some ways we should be grateful, because it is here, without the interruption of motion control where Virtua Tennis 4 stands out from the rest of the series.
World Tour mode feels more like a proper campaign. Players travel across the globe in an almost board-game-like format using randomly-generated “tickets” that act like predetermined dice rolls.
How you use these tickets is key to how you play, as you balance your tactics between participating in mini-games to improve your attributes, resting up to restore your fitness and participating in tournaments to up your star appeal. You do so by earning stars from winning tournaments and participating in charity and autograph signing sessions.
The learning curve to get there feels more satisfying than in previous Virtua Tennis games. Mini-games that reward you for taking part in them to improve attributes such as strokes, net play, dozens of unlockable clothing items and more lend an almost RPG-feel, as you build up your customised character, and watch them grow into a top-ranking superstar.
The emphasis on strategy, balancing your actions and the choices you make, such as whether to skip training, take part in that upcoming tournament or hire an agent to bring in higher rewards ensures that each play-through is different.
See our best Xbox games Top 5 now
Having ditched the motion controls for World Tour mode you’ll notice what is perhaps the biggest change to the series yet – the overhauled simulation style gameplay. Gone is the arcade style gameplay in favour of a more refined approach, placing emphasis on positioning and tactics. It’s a massive gamble, and one we think pays off.
Rallies now require effort. Players no longer move as if they’re on rollerblades. The slower pace means you’ll need to think a little more carefully about where to position yourself on the court, factoring in which hand is strongest too.
Working your way around the court effectively, placing yourself in position to hit that more accurate forehand shot is often key to victory. Gain enough momentum and you’ll earn yourself the ability to pull off a special power shot, giving your opponent little chance of returning, and swinging that troublesome deuce into an advantage in your favour.
The addition of this skill shot feels like a nod to a game that clearly has not forgotten its arcade roots, while the slower, more intelligent gameplay gives the impression that Virtua Tennis has grown up.
Most importantly, Virtua Tennis 4 still manages to retain all the fun of previous editions – evidenced most especially in its mini-games. As usual there are plenty that can be played as part of the World Tour mode or whenever you like in Party Mode. These have you attempting to maintain rallies in windy conditions, hitting targets, playing tennis Poker and leading hatching chicks to their mother hen, knocking pins down with serves bowling alley style and more.
In Virtua Tennis 4, the series has grown up and evolved into something much deeper. Get over the initial shock at how different Virtua Tennis 4 feels, and the half-baked attempt at motion-control and you’ll discover the most rewarding game in the series to date. Virtua Tennis 4 is the best, most playable tennis game out today.