Review: Virtua Tennis 4 (360)

Review: Virtua Tennis 4 (360)

I’ve been looking forward to Virtua Tennis 4 since it was announced. I may or may not have mentioned it before on the site (I totally have), but Virtua Tennis for the SEGA Dreamcast is one of my absolute favorite video games. I was a Virtua Tennis MASTER. Adding achievements, a multi-stage World Tour mode, a strong (but fundamentally flawed) character creation system, and vastly improved graphics and animation like Virtua Tennis 4 has done should make it a solid contender to become one of my absolute favorite video games, right? Yes and no.

Let’s start with what I think Virtua Tennis 4 does wrong. A few of the complaints are minor, and won’t really have an effect on the final review score, while some other complaints are more substantial, and will thus have a more substantial effect on the final review score.

Now, this is hardly a dealbreaker, but the first words out of my mouth when I started up Virtua Tennis 4 were, “What the [expletive deleted] is this [expletive deleted]?!” That’s before I even got to the menu screen. What could possibly have happened between starting up the game and the menu screen to provoke such a reaction?

[wpaudio url=”http://www.maroonersrock.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Virtua-Tennis-4-Intro-Song.mp3″ text=”Virtua Tennis 4 Intro Song” dl=”0″]

The opening video itself is (for the most part) fine, but the song selection is not even close to anything I was expecting for this game. Like I said, it’s not a dealbreaker, and it’s not something I’m going to score down on, but it felt more out of place than my blindingly white cousin at a hardcore gangster rap concert. To be clear, I’m not critiquing the quality of the song itself, just its use as the opening song to this game.

Next up is the fundamental flaw in the character creation system. Again, this one is extremely minor and, to be honest, might only be a fundamental flaw to me. For the most part, character creation is robust and strong, except for one area that is near and dear to my heart: eyebrows. I can either look like I have a unibrow, I pencil in, or I shave half of my eyebrows off. In reality, I have big, thick eyebrows, and I’m very fond of them. Even if I had normal eyebrows, though, I wouldn’t have been able to find anything to keep my character’s face from looking absolutely ridiculous (no offense to anyone with a unibrow, penciled in eyebrows, or half-shaved eyebrows).

Virtua Tennis 4 brings the original Virtua Tennis team back, and it shows. Some of the same problems I had with the original Virtua Tennis make a dastardly return in Virtua Tennis 4. At times, your player will be completely unresponsive until after a ball has passed. This is rare, but incredibly frustrating. Also, the cheapness factor of the original returns; opponent difficulty tends to increase in a match if you’re beating them. This may just be a matter of perception, but it makes me audibly angry.

Kinect play is not fully-implemented in Virtua Tennis 4 to work for World Tour mode, online mode, etc. You have an exhibition mode and mini-games that you can play with the Kinect, and that’s it. On top of that, compared to playing with the standard controller, Kinect is much more difficult. Yeah, you don’t have to manage your player’s movement on the court. Yeah, all you have to do is swing your arm. But you know what? It’s all badly implemented. You play in a first person mode, but with a limited peripheral vision and limited range of motion. If I’m playing ANYTHING in first person mode, I want to be able to look around, or at least have a larger peripheral range. If I’m playing tennis in real life, I watch the ball closely, and look down at the ball as I hit it. Kinect in Virtua Tennis 4 has your view planted firmly. You have to time your arm swing with extreme precision, unlike the standard controller play where you can position your character and power up a return. I got around the precision issue by simply flailing my arm about at my side like it was on fire and getting molested by a sexually aggressive bulldog whenever the ball was volleyed to me. That tactic improved my return rate from 20% to 80%. Improving my aim is another matter entirely; slight rotations of your hand result in rotating the shadow-racket you see on screen during the ball’s approach. Supposedly this is supposed to help with aim and specialty shots, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t just end up flopping it in a general direction each time. In this case, I’d probably say the PS Move has the advantage because of the internal sensors providing more control over aim, power, and timing.

Speaking of the PlayStation version, do you like exclusive characters and mini-games? Get the PlayStation version, because the 360 version has no exclusives. PlayStation got an extra mini-game and three bonus Legendary players. 360 has the standard mini-games and one standard Legendary player. This isn’t going to lower the review score any, because it’s simply a difference between versions due to Sony throwing money at SEGA, but it just grinds my gears a bit.

My final, and biggest complaint, is with the condition system used in the World Tour gameplay mode. Overall, I think it’s a great system, and very well implemented. The problem comes in when you reach the final tournament in a season during the later seasons. These final tournaments consist of quarter-finals, semi-finals, and finals. Once your condition meter drops below about 33% (in the later seasons), you begin playing with an injury which lowers your movement speed and your power. After each game in a end-of-season tournament, your condition meter drops by approximately 50%. This means that for the last two or three end-of-season tournaments, I consistently went into the final match with an almost completely empty condition bar, resulting in ridiculously one-sided matches. Because, you know, your opponents never have to worry about condition or injuries. They’re always at the top of their damn game.

Now for what I think Virtua Tennis 4 does right. In spite of my complaints, Virtua Tennis 4 is an absolute joy to play. Yes, even when I’m calling “Bullshit!” at the top of my lungs and punching the couch out of frustration, I’m still enjoying the hell out of the game overall. Yes, Virtua Tennis 4 is capable of bringing out a rage in me that few other games achieve, and yet I still love it. If a game can piss me off but keep me coming back for more, I call it a winner. Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather it didn’t have the problems it has, but even with the problems, it’s still a great game.

The character creation system is, as I’ve said, strong and robust. There’s a lot of customization here that really makes building your World Tour character a lot of fun. Character creation gives you the obvious basic customization options, like height, gender, muscle mass, facial features, voice, and more. To really differentiate your character, though, you can select different gameplay animations. Service, forehand, and backhand all offer multiple animations for you to choose from. There is also a massive list of unlockable content for equipping your character as you play, from clothing and rackets to the full outfits of defeated professionals.

The original Virtua Tennis had almost perfect gameplay. Virtua Tennis 4 improves it wherever it can to take into account the stronger hardware it’s working on. My only complaints with gameplay have been discussed. For the most part, Virtua Tennis 4 has the best and most fun tennis gameplay I have ever played. The actual gameplay and animations are smooth, and the graphics are beautiful. The sounds are what you would expect from a tennis game: lots of grunting (though one particular male grunt style is incredibly feminine).

The World Tour mode is my favorite part of Virtua Tennis 4. Each World Tour consists of four seasons, and each season consists of press events, training events, regional tournaments, and a final tournament. Progression is handled by three movement tickets, with movement values ranging from 1-4. When you use a ticket, it is randomly replaced with another ticket valued 1-4. You can purchase bonus tickets that refresh your condition, shuffle your movement cards, and more. You have to be somewhat strategic about using your movement cards, because of the limited number of cards you receive at a time. Planning ahead for movement is necessary with each step to ensure that you hit the type of events you feel are most important to you, be it training, press, the store, or more. Each event decreases your condition bar by varying amounts. Going in to a match with your condition below a certain threshold results in, as I mentioned earlier, playing with an injury. For most of the game (aside from the final tournaments issue I brought up), this is actually very well implemented and a great strategic element for the player to take into account. Restoration cards and locations can be used to bring your condition up before a big match. I put a good 5+ hours into my first World Tour, and I know for a fact that I’ll be repeating the World Tour to outdo my previous performance, as it brings great replay value to the game.

Online ranked play is the same as playing an exhibition match, except it’s online and it’s ranked. The ranked play is quick match-making, but you don’t have to sit there and wait for a match to be made. While waiting, you’re dropped into arcade mode to kill time. After a ranked match is done, if you choose to continue and be re-matched, you go back into arcade mode where you left off. Xbox Live play is unranked, and can be done with a party. You can do both mini-games and exhibition games.

Local multiplayer (something we have repeatedly lamented the decline of in recent years) is similar to Xbox Live play; exhibition matches, doubles arcade, and mini-games.

If you enjoyed Virtua Tennis, or tennis games in general, Virtua Tennis 4 is a must. It’s available now on Xbox 360 (with Kinect support), PlayStation 3 (with PS Move support and exclusive content), and Wii (with MotionPlus support). While I want to slap SEGA for some of the faults I found in this game, the overall quality and enjoyability of it stays my hand.

Review

ProsCons
Great graphics.
Great character creation.
Great World Tour mode/replay value.
Terrible Kinect implementation.
Return of original VT frustrations.
Heavily flawed condition system during final tournaments.
Rating
85 out of 100
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