After five years of Wii Sports stealing the tennis scene with its simple controls and addictive gameplay, Sega is trying to liven things up with Virtua Tennis 4. It certainly keeps the controls simple, but aside from a few enjoyable minigames, does nothing to make this entry an addiction.
A handful of current tennis superstars are available, like Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal, and Venus Williams, but the game certainly would have benefited from a wider pool. You can create your own character and work your way up the rankings in World Tour mode, but this feature is limited and lacks the full customization tools you may be hoping for. The venues are also limited. Although you can choose some major and minor locations, they are generic representations, so you won’t actually be playing in the virtual Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia.
If you don’t believe that this is a pick up and play game, you can start with the Practice Mode. A small series of tests show you how to serve, place the ball, and choose the right swing. It takes about five minutes to do all the practice rounds, and afterwards you’ll wonder why Sega bothered to even include these.
The exhibition mode allows you to quickly setup a match, pick the length you want, a pro to play as, and a venue. Designed to give you a quick tennis fix, the matches have nice pacing and don’t feel stretched out, unless you set them up that way. Up to four players can hook up for a match, so pick your doubles partner wisely.
Virtua Tennis games have always had a reputation for having off-the-wall minigames. While the Party Mode selection is limited to just under ten minigames, a few are quite enjoyable and have good replayability. Ace Striker has you whacking a soccer ball into a goal guarded by paper cutouts. Royal Poker requires you to make a poker hand by hitting a wall of cards. The most enjoyable though, especially with friends, is Bomb Match, where you volley a time bomb back and forth, trying to keep it away from your side of the court before the timer runs out and it explodes.
The main single player mode is World Tour. Nintendo fans will immediately be transported back to the days of Mario Party, as the world is transformed into a game board where you move using numbered tickets instead of dice. You’ll often be completing minigames during your turn. With a seventy day season, you must think ahead and carefully strategize your moves across the board. A clever idea, but often times the luck of the draw makes you skip a sought after event, or miss a major tournament altogether.
There are exhibition matches and publicity events to partake in. All of these raise your star meter, the currency used to enter into major tournaments. You’ll also receive cash for completed events, which can be used to purchase various movement and special tickets, as well as new gear when it becomes available. You must monitor your condition meter though, which decreases with every event until you land on a rest square. An unrested character is more prone to injuries, which can diminish the days left in the season, and also causes you to suffer a handicap when playing a match.
The controls for the Wii version are particularly frustrating, since you’re asked to hold the Wii Remote sideways instead of using it in conjunction with the Nunchuck. The button placement makes for awkward play. You have four shots to choose from, but the buttons that correspond with these shots are randomly spread out across the controller. There are two buttons on the right, the A button beside the control pad, and the trigger button underneath. Also, not having an analog stick for movement makes it more difficult to shift around the court.
As frustrating as the conventional controls may be, they aren’t as bad as the ghastly motion controls. Before launch, Sega was touting the full motion compatibility with all systems, which their competitor, Top Spin 4, failed to achieve. With such hype, it’s incredibly disappointing that the controls were actually given such little attention. You can only use the motion controls in the exhibition game and one of the party games. In both, you shift in and out of first and third-person perspectives, forcing you to constantly adjust your focus. You also don’t control your character’s movements, and simply need to swing at the appropriate time. Serves and ball placement are also out of your control, making any strategy while playing in this mode null and void. At best, you’ll get a little workout for your arm, but you’ll probably get bored long before your arm ever gets tired.
The graphics in the Wii version are noticeably worse than its console competitors. In order to accommodate the same features and game modes available on the Xbox 360 and the PS3, blocky textures and poor shadowing, as well as dated character models are what the Wii version must suffer with. The animations are still as smooth, but the camera movement shows all the graphical exceptions made in order to keep a decent frame rate.
The music is an odd, genre-bending blend that lacks any type of coherence. Surprisingly, the music played during the matches fits the arcade style Sega was going for and does nothing to detract the gameplay. The sound effects, however, may be the worst I have heard in any game. The limited grunts and other tennis sounds seem like something a monkey could have found on the internet. The audience is audibly disjointed as well. A good example is when you’re playing in a qualifying court where the screen clearly shows just a few spectators, but applause seems to come from an invisible audience of about fifty.
Since tennis games don’t receive an annual upgrade like other sports games do, you would think developers would have more time to deliver a polished product. Virtua Tennis 4, however, seems to take about a dozen steps backward, with few redeeming features able to keep your interest. Hopefully, they take a long hard look at their flaws and serve up a better product the next time around. Until then, where’s my Wii Sports?
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.0 Graphics
Since tennis games don’t receive an annual upgrade like other sports games do, you would think developers would have more time to deliver a polished product. Virtua Tennis 4, however, seems to take about a dozen steps backward, with few redeeming features able to keep your interest. Hopefully, they take a long hard look at their flaws and serve up a better product the next time around. Until then, where’s my Wii Sports? 1.0 Control
Poor button layout with the Wii Remote and awful motion controls will make your hands hurt more than actually hitting the tennis court. 1.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
A mediocre mix of music, and terrible sound effects. 2.3 Play Value
Quick exhibition matches, both locally and online, and some memorable minigames are enough for a quick fix. The odd career mode, however, is more frustrating than fun. 1.7 Overall Rating – Avoid
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best