Well gamers, Prof. Oblivion here, and it’s time to talk some video tennis again, with the Virtua Tennis’ franchise main competitor, the Top Spin franchise having released their own sharp fourth edition of their series only a couple months back, and now it’s time for the Virtua Tennis series to return serve with their own No. 4’s release just around the corner. So does the Virtua Tennis 4 demo indicate that this latest edition will bring something new and compelling to their own franchise? Let’s explore, first serve…
Right away, the first thing we made note of was the simple fact that this edition has the title back in numerically sequential order, except for one thing, in reality this is actually the fifth edition of Virtua Tennis, with the actual fouth edition being named “Virtua Tennis 2009”, which does make Virtua Tennis 4, number 5 of the series. Strange quirk as to why makers Sega would do this, maybe just to keep us on our toes to see if were noticing closely enough to keep proper count. On the other hand, the whole game of tennis does have one of the most bizarre methods of keeping score in all of sport with the whole, “Love, 15, 30, 40, score counting method anyway, so we’ll cut Sega a break on that one.
It appears the The new Virtua Tennis 4 is going to offer a lot in the way of various modes of play, the title screen containing options like World Tour, Arcade, Exhibition, Practice, Party, and Motion Play, (we’ll get back to that later…), and it looks encouraging that this edition of Virtua Tennis will give virtual tennis players more ways to play than ever before, both as a solo player and multiplayer versus and co-op. The Virtua Tennis 4 demo starts out as customization friendly as ever, giving the virtual tennis player in world tour mode, (the only mode accessible in the demo), a lot of choice and control over what kind of ball crushing warrior they want to send out on to the court.
The player selection process begins with being able to choose between six different base models of player of various size, shape and ethnicity, then from there the real customization begins. The very first consideration is determining your body type. The first category allows for altering of left or right “handedness”, muscularity, height, weight, and skin tone. The second category more concerns actual tennis playing style, where the techniques of serve form, return form, forehand form, backhand form, and most quirky alteration “shot voice”, which is the kind of grunt your player emits when striking the ball. We encourage steering clear of shot voice #5 when creating a male tennis player if you don’t want to get ripped on by your buddies! Then from there it’s just up to you to decide on all the little tweaks you’d like for your players face and hair style and you’re ready to embark on the World Tour mode.
The World Tour mode is a four season journey in which the player must excel in multiple aspects of the world of pro tennis such as match results, relations with fans, and volunteer activities, which all combine to affect your overall “star rating”. Your goal is rise through the ranks from your humble beginnings at zero, all the way up through numerically determined sub-categories such as (25-49 Rising”, (50-74 Advanced), (75-99 Lively), and so on, all the way up through the bronze, silver, and gold levels to the top of the heap at (750- Ultimate Star), which has you in the company of tennis greats like Federer, Nadal, and other well-known, top level players. The method by which this progression takes place is a little different in Virtua Tennis 4, than the similar predecessors Virtua Tennis 3 and Virtua Tennis 2009.
The free reign over the globe to hit any destination or mini-game at any time is no longer in play, now replaced by a more predetermined “on rails” type system across the continents, not to say that there isn’t any choice or free will left in how you get there, there is, it’s just considerably different than before. The virtual tennis player begins with a coach and a set of three different “move tickets” that allow the player to move the number of spaces indicated by that ticket. The tickets are constantly replenished by your coach, but the numeric values of these tickets are random, which means you can pre-plan a certain route to events and tournaments of your choice, but if you don’t have the right amount of correctly numbered move tickets, you’re going to have to compromise and choose the next best amount of moves and stops that the move tickets you’re holding do allow.
Along the semi-predetermined paths, your player has to allow for certain considerations, like what mini-games to hit in order to boost their skills and abilities, allowing for rest and recuperation, signing autographs, charity events, public training sessions, interviews, fan-related and promotional activities to raise your star power, and of course what tournaments to play. Along the way the player can also stop at a management office with the money you’ve earned along the way, to purchase useful tickets like the “auto-recoup” ticket, and a “shuffle” ticket that allows you to draw a new set of three if you happen to get stuck with 3 tickets that all only allow the identical number of moves.
The mini-games themselves along the World Tour path will seem very familiar to those that have played earlier editions of Virtua Tennis. They’re not merely copied and pasted from the earlier versions, but very similar nonetheless. There’s a clay pigeon break, a wall match, a wind match, an egg collector, and others which in true to Virtua Tennis protocol, some of which seem a little silly, but are fun anyway, and necessary to improve the player’s stroke, defensive, tactical, and net play skills respectively. The particular mini-game that is chosen having a direct affect on which of these skills is increased by the biggest margin, for instance the wall play boosts the players net skills much more quickly than say, the clay pigeon break which concentrates mostly on improving the players stroke ability.
The background music in Virtua Tennis 4 appears to be the usual fare of “electronica” which can get annoyingly repetitive to some. The graphics however, do appear improved. The detail involved, both in player animation and background detail is sharper, not reaching the levels seen in Top Spin, but markedly improved for the Virtua Tennis franchise. The expected top players are here in Virtua Tennis 4, along with some new additions, like Juan Martin del Potro and Fernando Gonzalez on the men’s side, and Caroline Wozniacki and Laura Robson on the women’s. There also the addition of 3 new “legends”, Boris Becker, Patrick Rafter, and Stephen Edberg.
The most compelling innovation of this edition of the Virtua Tennis series by far, is the inclusion of the mediums compatible with the game. Virtua Tennis 4 will be motion play compatible, working with the Kinect for the Xbox 360, the PS Move on the PS3, and of course will be motion control oriented on the Nintendo Wii with use of the WiiMotion Plus. In Motion Play mode the side to side movement is automatic, but the actual swinging of the racquet is in your hands, with the ability put spin and slice on your shots for the more experienced player. You can also drop back or rush the net by physically stepping forward or back. When the ball approaches the game will sweep in to first person perspective, allow the proper detail for a properly timed swing. Virtua Tennis 4 is even capable of being played in stereoscopic 3-D!
The demo itself does appear a little more polished than its Virtua Tennis predecessors, but the true marked improvement of this edition is in its ability to allow new motion controlled play and 3-D capability, which the demo does not allow the player to experience. Only on the May 10th full version release date do we get the fully appreciate just how far the Virtua Tennis franchise has really evolved. We look forward to it.
– Prof. Benny Oblivion