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Virtua Tennis 4 (Xbox 360, PS3 & Wii)
Tested and reviewed based on the Xbox 360 version.
Review by Ben Nacca
(Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/BenNacca )
XBL GT: Darkeyes2k7 PSN ID: Darkeyes2k11
Have you ever been asked the question: "Are you Top or Virtua?" I haven't either but I saw someone ask that in a forum and made me wonder...is there that competition between Top Spin series and Virtua Tennis? I suppose it is only natural they take the tennis world of PES and FIFA or Forza and Gran Turismo as the only two decent tennis games available for those who are fans of the sport.
I believe Top Spin 2 was the first tennis game I remember playing by 2K Games and I must say, I enjoyed it. The training, the progression, the frustration when your player wouldn't move fast enough...it was entertaining. I do not expect how far I expected the tennis games to have progressed, not playing one since Top Spin 2 but Virtua Tennis 4 felt more or less the same. There is upgraded visuals, sure. A unique campaign structure, sure. Clever and adaptable A.I, not a chance.
Now forgive me for making this assumption if it is wrong but by just starting the menu of Virtua Tennis 4, I can only assume it is meant to be arcade-like by nature. I am aware that they are arcade games in Japan and probably other countries too but the annoying arcade chimes and voices start to grind on you after a while. Sound effects include "guh" "grr" and the thud of tennis balls on courts and rackets. The occasional applause and the sigh when you miss/lose. I think that covers it? Obviously you have the score shouted out to you and the "out" is also unfortunately there. I think as far as tennis games go though, it has the sound area covered for the most part.
Visually, I cannot really see much difference between Virtua Tennis 4 and Top Spin 2. Understanding that the photo-realism has evolved immensely, the crowd is just far to static and the entire game feels like plastic rather than realistic. This may be a thing for Virtua Tennis series and Top Spin series is just a realistic version in the visual department. The courts are interesting at times though with a variety of locations plus the map for the campaign is colourful and informative at the same time. The menus are ugly and the campaign menu feels a little too convoluted. The opposite can be said for the controls however, with me finding myself just using A and X with a direction to win the matches.
There seems to be a lack of challenge with the games at times, being relatively straightforward until you factor in conditioning and the effect that can have on the entire game. In your career, you have a board game-style map, think Monopoly but the world instead, and rather than buying properties, you either play a match, train, rest or do nothing on the spaces you land on. You can control where you go by selecting tickets that are randomly generated each "turn" that give you a number of spaces. This is only made worthwhile by the conditioning feature in this game since you can't just power on and play match after match after match. Let the bar go to low without resting or enter a large tournament without practice and enhanced conditioning and you will find yourself picking up injuries, performing worse in matches and losing speed and power on the courts. It makes it that little bit more exciting and challenging at the same time which is always a good thing.
Of course, there is the general arcade mode or your random exhibition matches to supply you with your tennis fix, featuring a roster of real life tennis players to test out. Multiplayer will let you pit yourself against your friends and if there still isn't enough for you to do and you have a Kinect (Playstation Move for PS3 or Wii Motion Plus for Nintendo Wii) then you can play tennis like in real life...just without the racket and the ball, simply a minor omitted feature.
Being able to turn the face of the "racket" to create spin and featuring a dynamic camera to zoom in and out depending on when you have the ball and when they do, as well as stepping forward and backwards to control your position on the court, the motion aspect of the game works well and it is good that it is not a necessary feature to the game but rather an additional optional extra.
Achievements are long, painful and but are not too hard. Swing your racket x amount of times or become "this" famous in career are some of the more straight forward ones with majority just unlocking as you play. It will be time consuming though and with an achievement for online gameplay, especially playing on a court for ten hours cumulatively in match time means you could be there a while.
They are ok for the most part but nothing amazing in my opinion. Seeing gameplay of Top Spin 4, there seems to be vast improvements in visual performance there and with Virtua Tennis 4 feeling painfully arcade-y, even the menus look a bit bland.
As mentioned above, grunts, bounces, racket sounds and the crowd. Is anything else needed? Well take away the annoying background music and menu chimes and you have yourself an ear-friendly tennis game that focuses on the basic sounds and builds on them.
Simple controls, variable game play and a great idea for the campaign with the board game-like approach with turns and making you choose. It helps to keep the campaign fresh each time you play it.
With various modes, a decent amount of tennis players in the roster plus a create-your-own, Virtua Tennis goes one step further to add motion capabilities so no matter what console you are playing it on, you can be swinging like a pro in no time.
After returning to the world of tennis in gaming, I must say the most impressive thing that caught my eye with Virtua Tennis 4 was the campaign, with the map and the conditioning being a particular highlight for me, adding that realism while creating a sense of turn based gameplay to choose how you go about the campaign. Sweet idea. At the end of the day, if you like tennis then you should enjoy this game.
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Virtua Tennis is the latest in Sony's attempts to corner the market in tennis games on the Xbox, their current rival is Top spin a game which generally offers more options and realism. I bought this game in the renewed hope that this year they might resolve some of the glitches and I could finally own a definitive tennis game. I wanted a game that was the equivalent of Wimbledon centre court seats with Pimms and Strawberries, unfortunately this was more like Wimbledon Dog track with chicken in a basket (It really isn't that bad, but it was the only other sporting venue I could recall in Wimbledon which served food!!).
The game is playable using the kinnect motion system, however I haven't purchased this yet so had to make do with my trusty wireless controller. With a normal controller this is actually a pretty good game, it does lack something to make it special though and I can't put my finger on it, but I haven't kept wanting to come back to try new things or discover new elements and that is a sign of a good but not great game for me.
The game has the usual options of single player, multiplayer, online play or motion play using the kinnect, I play as a single player in world tour mode, which is essentially career mode, I like games where I can immerse myself and develop my character, this is a reasonable approximation, much of the menus have a Japanese video game feel to them which weakens the game for me, you can play matches, do tests such as play in wind to gain points and improve skills or kit, you can also unlock extra matches through good performance in matches and in tests.
This is all fine as are fan signings and other diversions, but I really was hoping for something more substantive, more for the player to do off court, ways the player might develop personality, but this sadly lacks that.
Where it does score well is in gameplay, the presentation is fine and players look like their real counterparts, they have even added our own Laura Robson into this years game, which adds to the realism, but the graphics are secondary to the gameplay which doesn't seem much different to last years game.
The shot variety is good but not great, the camera angles can be annoying and can ruin a shot and your concentration, whilst the supershot, where you build up momentum and can play a special shot exclusive to your player is the new thing, I like the idea of your game upping as your momentum builds, or vice versa as it drops, but the supershot is a bit of a gimmick and makes this much more arcade like in its outlook, which is a downer for me.
Overall if you simply want a fun tennis game, this is it, if you want more realism and more of a simulation, perhaps you should wait as this isn't it. The game is available for £34.99 on Amazon but I'd wait for it to drop by at least £10 before it is worth the price.