Reviewed: June 10, 2011
Released: May 10, 2011
Thinking about it, it's a little bit surprising that there aren't more tennis video games. After all, what else is tennis but a real-life attempt to mimic Pong? I might have that backwards, but still, tennis games are pretty few and far between, and that alone makes Virtua Tennis 4 fairly notable. Add on top of that an excellent career mode that blends mini-games, board game style movement, character development, and compelling tennis gameplay, and Virtua Tennis 4 is a winner. Its only drawbacks are a difficulty curve in the career mode that might stymie players, and a tutorial that's hidden under the name of practice mode, but necessary to understanding the intricacies of the game.|
While arcade, exhibition, and party modes exist, each just presents one slice of the pie present in the world tour mode. World Tour lets you create a new tennis player, taking them on tours of Asia and Oceania, the Mediterranean, northern Europe, and North America, stopping along the way for training, exhibition matches, charity events, and tournaments. Along the way you try to raise your star rating, while getting the training you need to hold your own on the court.
While the core game of the world tour is rather simple, trading randomized tickets for map movement and trying to land on the squares you need, each of the training games is enjoyable. Whether you're smashing plates, herding chickens and dodging tennis balls, or bouncing the ball off of gigantic playing cards to try and assemble poker hands, each of the mini-games hearkens back to Virtua Tennis's arcade roots.
The matches, meanwhile, are significantly more about the actual business of tennis. As you build your player, you unlock various styles of play each of which significantly changes how you play. With different requirements for charging power shots, and different movement around the field and skill at shots, even the difference between two styles in the same training tree are notable. Switching from a focus on powerful strikes to forehand swings requires a serious reevaluation of how you approach the game.
The games themselves require playing to your strength, trying to keep your opponent off balance. As you progress, you'll learn the tricks to beating certain techniques, and what counters what. Trying to beat a fast player with a defensive style will just give them more time to get in position, but a style that plays closer to the net might do well to negate their advantage. For a fast-paced game, there's a surprising amount of strategy and preparation that goes into the matches ahead of time.
As you progress though the game, you meet and compete against real professional players, which can be exciting, but their appearances highlight the flaws in the normally realistic graphics. While the game's presentation was strong enough to trick those passing by that I was watching realtennis at times, the match setup screens where they juxtapose your player's picture with a photograph of a pro doesn't do a significant favor for the game.
When you're taking a break from the world tour mode, Kinect users can enjoy the motion control options the game provides. Unfortunately, I'm not a Kinect user, so I can't comment on how it works, but it does allow you to play exhibition matches and the party mode, which lets you play through the mini-games, each with one or two players. Unfortunately, world tour mode is off limits for people who prefer to put down the controller and spend some time flailing around.
All told, Virtua Tennis is a well-put-together tennis game with some strategic depth and an arcade flare. It's got a lot of charm, and with sharp graphics, good sound, and online play, it seems like something that could keep a tennis fan busy for a while. I definitely enjoyed my time guiding my pro through the world tour until the match difficulty got too much to keep up with, but harder-core players might not find that an issue, or even enjoy being casually ruined by opponents they can't get a ball past. Either way, if the concept of arcade tennis interests you at all, Virtua Tennis 4 is worth your time.