IGN Preview of Virtua Tennis 4
The Virtua Tennis series has been around for more than ten years. When a franchise gets that old, it's hard to keep things fresh. But SEGA set out to evaluate everything about the Virtua Tennis experience and refine it. One step the developers took was incorporating motion controls into the latest title in the series: Virtua Tennis 4.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to play it for myself and try the PlayStation Move and Kinect versions. I was told by a SEGA representative that the Kinect version isn't as far along in its development as the Move version, but playing both side-by-side was helpful in illuminating the differences not only in the hardware itself but how that hardware is being used in the games.
The implementation of motion control in Virtua Tennis 4 is similar to how Wii Sports handled tennis back in 2006. The movement of the character is generally automatic, though stepping forward will cause the character to rush the net. This feature can be found in both versions. Most of the time, however, players need only worry about hitting the ball when it approaches. This is done by swinging the Move controller like a tennis racket on the PS3, and swinging your arm in an arc when playing on the 360.
The camera work here is an interesting blend of angles. When the ball is in your opponent's side of the court, the camera hovers over your character's shoulder in a tight third-person perspective. As soon as the ball approaches, the camera quickly enters the character to give you a first-person view of the action. The intention is to give you a better grasp of the ball's location so you can time your swing. This is a smart design choice in theory, but I found it to be disorienting at first. It was also surprisingly difficult to gauge the perfect time to swing, as there was a slight delay between swinging the Move controller and swinging the in-game racket. Swinging your arm in the Kinect version was also delayed.
I appreciate the technology Kinect employs, but in this situation it seems that the PlayStation Move version of Virtua Tennis 4 has the advantage. Not only are you holding a physical controller during play which roughly emulates holding a racket, but the Move controller will supposedly measure the twist and angle of your swing. This is not possible on the Kinect version. It's disappointing, but the Kinect hardware just can't track minute body motions like wrist rotation.
I enjoyed playing Virtua Tennis 4 with Move, though having less control of the character on-screen removes a great deal of the strategy involved in tennis. Yes, you can rush the net at an opportune time, but having no control over the side-to-side movement of the player is stifling. This is an issue with both versions.
Playing with Kinect is similar to playing with the Move, though it feels unnatural to swing your bare hands and strike a virtual ball with a virtual racket. You also have less control over your swing, as Kinect can't track any twists in your hand during the motion.
Playing two versions of Virtua Tennis 4 with motion support reminded me how much I love traditional control schemes. When I finally switched from a Move controller to a DualShock, I immediately felt more comfortable with the experience. Having full control of your character's movement is also more challenging and much more liberating. While motion controls might be useful for introducing a non-gamer to the world of Virtua Tennis, I suspect most veterans of the series will stick with tradition.
Virtua Tennis 4 is scheduled to launch this April for the PS3, 360, and the Nintendo Wii.
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