EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to the PlayStation Network's downtime, we have not been able to test online play on the PS3 version of Virtua Tennis. Our evaluation is based on the 360 and Wii versions. We will provide an update once PSN returns."
It's probably a good thing that tennis video games aren't an annual endeavor. Don't get me wrong, I love me some Top Spin and Virtua Tennis, but looking at SEGA's Virtua Tennis 4 – and how little has changed in the tennis world in the last four years – I'm more than fine with not reviewing one of these games every year.
Between the two major tennis games, Virtua Tennis was always the more arcade style game, while Top Spin was a more traditional tennis sim. Virtua Tennis 4 stays true to its roots. It's got a wacky, over-the-top feel, and there is more of a focus on exciting tennis action and less on stats and attributes.
Virtua Tennis 4 plays really well. The controls are tight, the animations are good, and the game has a great difficulty progression. The opponents feel unique and require different strategies to defeat. It's satisfying to hit a smash and watch the other guy dive for it. Not gonna lie, I yelled obscenities both in anger and joy during the final, most difficult tournament, and that's how a high energy, emotional game like tennis should feel.
The biggest problem with Virtua Tennis 4 is that it feels like I've played all this before. The meat of the game doesn't feel different than Virtua Tennis 3. It's nearly all the same players, and the mechanics are identical. Not that there's a lot that can be improved in a tennis game (it's essentially a glorified Pong), but it's hard to get excited for a game I've played already.
Virtua Tennis 4 isn't all a rehash, but the new features don't add a lot to the experience. The World Tour is now a bizarre board game, adding a level of randomness to the career. While it certainly keeps things interesting, it does little more than add a sense of frustration whenever I couldn't play a tournament or mini-game when I wanted to because the game forced me to move in random intervals on the game board.
Likewise the mini-games are back, with the same zaniness like gathering chicks, and playing hot potato with a time bomb, but these are momentary distractions. I commend SEGA for making my training sessions in career mode more interesting than just practicing a backhand, but the games aren't fun enough to play on their own (which is what the game's Party mode is all about).
Thankfully Virtua Tennis 4 features an Arcade mode, a more streamlined four-match tournament that gives you a decent challenge without all the fluff. And there is an online mode, though I wish it was more robust. I can play matches against people, and there's a ranking system that keeps track of my wins, but it'd be nice to set up an online career or tournament structure. That isn't too much to ask.
All three versions of Virtua Tennis 4 offer motion control. Despite the differences in Kinect, PlayStation
Move, and Wii Motion Plus, they all play about the same. You swing the Wii Remote/Move Wand/Your Arm to swing the tennis racquet on screen. Motion control is not playable in any of the
game's main modes, but rather through a special Exhibition mode. Virtua Tennis 4 has an interesting
first-person mode during these portions. It's limited because you lose the ability to control your player's
movement, but the swinging mechanics are well done and the perspective is interesting.
Still, the lack of implementation for this into any of the game's really modes makes motion support feel
tacked on. All the games advertise their support on the packages, so it's surprising, and disappointing to