Virtua Tennis 4
It's been the year of tennis so far, with the upcoming release of Top Spin 4, and now, Sega's flagship Virtua Tennis 4. Virtua Tennis has always been a specifically Japanese tennis game, with a cool and modern aesthetic up against slightly weird and addictive minigames. Virtua Tennis 4 doesn't mix the core up too much, but there's plenty new here, such as a brand new campaign mode, 3D support, and rather impressive Move and Kinect applications. And there's a new minigame forcing Roger Federer to collect baby chicks! That's pretty awesome. So, like I said, the core mechanics are still here. Tennis shots are still face buttons, control is the same, and there's very little new with the basics. However, Sega is rewarding players who replicate the on-court actions of the pro they are currently controlling with Match Momentum. Say a player is controlling Sharapova. She's a heavy hitter, meaning if a player times all of their shots to be extra powerful, and perform fast serves, her Momentum meter will rise. Fill it up, and the player can use a special shot. Nope, it's not crazy like Mario Tennis, but it is a substantially more powerful shot. Other players, like Monfils or Nadal, will require players to replicate their individual styles.
One area that has a little but of new and of old is the World Tour. Revamped to look like a board game, players will move around a very accurate and realistic map of the world, going deep into places like China and Vietnam, with real city and town names. Movement is designated by tickets given to the player by their manager, and they can move depending on the number on the ticket. There are plenty of different events gamers will be able to take their character, from tournaments to one-off matches, to shopping and even charity events. There's a really modern vibe to the World Tour, and addressing players' complaints that many of them never actually finished World Tour, this mode is designed to be a little friendlier, while still offering lots to do. Minigames have all received a big face-lift. Many gamers complained that previous Virtua Tennis games were too much like alike, so Sega is rebuilding the minigames. These, and the party games, are great, offering loads of different ways to level up characters and try to mix things up. One moment Federer will be, and I repeat, collecting baby chicks on a court to bring them to their mother, and the next a Williams sister will be starting a rally as massive fans blow the ball around the court. One match I saw in the world tour was a match in "fancy dress." I have no idea what fancy dress is in tennis. but I'm hoping players will have top hats and ball gowns.
Motion control was surprisingly well developed. I don't want to toot my own horn, but I did play tennis in high school, and while I'm nothing special, I do at least know basic form. The motion control modes are separated from the rest of the game modes, and they work like a fusion between Wii Sports Tennis and regular tennis games. Using either the Move or Kinect (and MotionPlus, we have not forgotten you), players can reenact hitting a ball in first person. If players want the pro to move forward or back, they can move closer to the TV or father back, and for the most part it works pretty well. Real life form and technique actually benefited me over the other journalists previewing the game, and the game is even smart enough to recognize a two-handed shot. Not too surprisingly, motion control worked best with the Move controller over Kinect, as the physical object in hand helps recreate that feeling of holding a racquet. All in all, I was very impressed, and had much more fun than I expected, and with the 3D effects of the PS3 version, I think I may have found my favorite new tennis mode in a game. Virtua Tennis 4 is facing some substantial competition with Top Spin 4, and it should be interesting to see takes home game, set, and match between the two. With an April release date, Virtua Tennis 4 has enough time to tighten some final bugs, and with the robust motion control and reevaluated gameplay, tennis fans should have a solid tennis game to love.