reviews\ May 20, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Virtua Tennis 4 Review


Franchise followers will find Virtua Tennis 4 a difficult title to resist. The gameplay has proven solid for years, and everyone loves to see their favorite games in a fresh coat of paint. Yet no matter how powerful our nostalgia may be, it's obvious when a developer is relying so heavily on its namesake that it takes lazy shortcuts and ignores the potentially genre-breaking possibilities of new gameplay.

The mechanics are second nature to fans of the series. Swings types are assigned to the buttons, while the stick is used to aim your shot. One new addition can be found in the power gauge, which builds slowly with successful shots. The player can unleash these shots in slow motion (we’re not still calling it “bullet time”, are we?), and the effect is cool. Unfortunately, it doesn't provide any significant advantage for the player. This may have been a deliberate effort to keep the game balanced, but it makes the whole feature seem annoying once you get bored of the razzle-dazzle.

Because it's a casual game, newcomers may find the merciful, simple arrangement appealing. It's probable that serious players will consider it unsatisfying, but it's actually difficult to mess up, at least in any way that counts. However, the design may have been intentional. As everyone knows, the Kinect has a reputation for imprecision, so a game that demands greater accuracy would surely give a headache to the Kinect-minded player.

In addition to the usual assortment of game modes and online play, VT4 brings an array of mini-games to the field. All manner of oddities are placed across the court, from playing cards to chickens. Although the break-up in pace is welcome, traditional gamers may find these games a little too weird for their tastes. The career mode is predictably appealing, with personal customization and cultivation available as you guide your creation through the World Tour. Moving across the continents and attending various events helps to bolster the real-world feel of the game, though there is often a price to such depth. In this case, you’re confined to the rigors of tickets and scheduling, which can cause you to miss out on important events if you don’t plan carefully. This sounds contradictory to the seemingly casual approach taken by the rest of the game, as though the developers wished to split the game to satisfy both casual and hardcore demographics.

Due to their relatively simple core components, one-on-one sports games have the potential to be among the best-looking of video games. Sure, there are often animated crowds of dubious credibility in the background, but you’re essentially viewing two characters at a time. Modern gaming consoles can dedicate a huge portion of their processing power to rendering these characters, resulting in such graphical glories as those seen in the latest Fight Night. Virtua Tennis 4 falls behind the times on the visual front, unfortunately. Facial features look odd, and the players can even be spotted “skating” across the court--that is, their position changes without the corresponding animation, turning them into figure skaters of sorts. Low-res textures and jarring animations like these are almost inexcusable in a contemporary title, particularly one that hails from such a respectable blood line.

By and large, Virtua Tennis 4 does adhere strongly to its roots, bringing enough excitement to lure a wider audience. However, it would be useful for a study to be conducted of similar titles, so that these updated features could find their way into the beloved franchise. Virtua Tennis has proven its vitality over the years. Now it just needs to show us that it hasn’t lost it.

[Reviewed on Xbox 360]

Above Average

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