Serves, aces, returns and volleys. If that lingo happens to be a part of your everyday conversation language, then the upcoming summer months are certainly circled on a close-by calendar as prime outdoor tennis dates. The lucky circuit playing professionals have been able to tour warm climates throughout this northern winter, but that isn’t an option which presents itself for the everyday athlete. For them, video games can be a great way to keep in touch with the technical sport, as well as a potential teacher. With that in mind, SEGA has released Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition as its PS Vita launch line-up contribution.
In this digital representation of the ball and racquet sport, fans are treated to an experience that is more reminiscent of a simulation than anything. However, some of its aspects tend to feel more arcade in nature. Different types of shots can be taken using the four shape-indicative face buttons on the handheld, with movement mapped to either one of the sticks. Though, that standard scheme, where power means holding a button before unleashing a shot isn’t the only one available. It’s also possible to play using the touchscreen, by drawing serve arcs, pointing to where the player should go and tapping to perform a shot. Rear touch can also be enabled for folks who would prefer that, although most will opt for the precise qualities that the standard, button-based scheme brings to the experience. The other control schemes are imprecise in comparison.
On the court, Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition is a solid and entertaining sporting experience. However, it lacks some of the polish and oomph found in other related releases. This occasionally results in rather formulaic matches, where power shots aren’t as explosive as they could be. Also, it occasionally felt like the game suffered from a bit of a minor identity crisis as a result of its conflicting simulation and arcade influences. Despite these drawbacks, this is still a competent and above-average game, which happens to feel more like a console experience than a portable one.
Developed by SEGA-AM3 in Japan, Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition does not feature a fully-licensed version of the sport’s tour. Instead, a rather unique career mode is presented. Using a board game design, complete with movement and rest cards, players must take their created professional from the beginning of his career to potential fame and fortune. Along the way, a myriad of decisions must be made, with the majority of them related to movement. A prime example of this is split pathways, where a training option is on one side and a chance to meet fans is on the other. If you decide to go for the available training mini-game, then it means you’re looking to get better at the sport’s core mechanics. Conversely, choosing the meet and greet opportunity will bestow a certain amount of rank increasing stars onto your virtual athlete.
The aforementioned board is a magnified representation of our globe, featuring some of its more exotic tennis hotbeds, with the Asian continent starting things off. The goal is to earn enough stars to be able to compete in the world’s largest tournaments, with the option to stop on one-off matches and practice tournaments along the way. Training is an important asset, with a lengthy list of unique options available, although being a humble star is just as important. Finding a good balance between playing, practicing and meeting fans is key, although there’s one other major thing to keep an eye on: condition. If your star isn’t well rested, he or she will not perform as well as possible. Rest cards can be purchased and used to revitalize this meter, but stopping on a condition spot is your most affordable bet. Granted, it all depends on the movement tickets that are available – an occasionally annoying limitation.
Major tournaments are where you will compete racquet to racquet with some of the sport’s more notable pros and legends, such as Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Sharapova, Becker, Edberg and Venus Williams. Although they are named after some of the sport’s most prestigious competitions, these are not licensed events. As a result, you’ll be vying for a chance to play in the Australia Challenge, French Cup, England Tennis Classic and US Super Tennis tournaments, among others. While it’s too bad that the full license wasn’t purchased, it doesn’t make a huge difference. This way, the development team was able to have some creative flexibility, which isn’t a bad thing.
Unlike in EA‘s Grand Slam Tennis 2, tournaments tend to be more concise. Instead of playing seven rounds, you’re only going to need to win around four to achieve victory. This counts lower ranking tiers of said events, where the sport’s up and comers must battle it out for a chance to play against the big boys for tennis supremacy. SEGA‘s allows for a more portable-friendly experience, which isn’t taken up by lengthy qualifiers, focusing more on player development instead. Some may not like this idea as much as others, but it’s good for those who are on the go. It can take a little while to get to the 300+ star requirement for maximum fame, but the journey is an interesting one that is decided by the player instead of a predetermined list. It’s nice to have the ability to pick and choose where to stop and what to play, although most major tournaments fit into a must-play category. That is, if you’ve done well enough to earn a position in their ranks.
The other major mode to be found here is an arcade option. Think of it as being a bit like a fighting game ladder, where short games are played against various opponents in cup settings. Your goal is to win every match along the route to a showdown against a challenging adversary. Retries are available, which is a nice touch for a mode that provides solid short-burst entertainment.
Next up is the mini-game mode, where all of the aforementioned training challenges are available for one-off play. This was actually my favourite part of the game, as it included some really neat options. You can serve for bowling pin strikes, attempt to make a great hand in royal poker or play hot potato with a bomb. Those three are just a snippet of what is available, with the best one arguably being a challenge to see how many chicks can be taken from the court to hens waiting on the sidelines. Although they’re all arcade in nature, each training game and its five or six levels ends up teaching players how to be better at the game without being too technical. Considering that the included practice option is very basic and happens to lack the helpful qualities one would normally expect, those mini-game challenges are a nice substitute.
Closer to the bottom of the main menu, an option for augmented reality games can be selected. This is where the Vita’s unique features are showcased. Examples include the ability for two players to play against each other using one Vita and its touchscreen, as well as the option to play from the pro’s perspective. The latter one uses the accelerometer to mimic head movement, so it’s important to keep your sight line level by steadying the device. This feature is also used to tilt a target-covered pirate ship in a shooting practice mini-game. All of those work quite well, but they’re more or less afterthoughts that the majority of users won’t spend a lot of time with. It’s nice that they’re included though.
Last, but certainly not least is the ability to use Ad-Hoc or online means, in order to connect with some of the PlayStation Network’s most talented players. While there aren’t any noteworthy or unique modes to be found in this area of the cartridge, it’s nice to be able to test your skills against real-life opponents. Be warned; they’re quite ruthless. A loss will mean forfeiting earned player points, with the goal being to earn as many as possible in order to level-up and unlock new gear.
Although they don’t play a major role in the game, the handheld’s two cameras are used in somewhat interesting ways. The most notable one allows for gamers to take photos of their face, for use in creating a digital likeness for career mode. It’s a solid feature. Though, the same can’t be said about the way that the rear camera is utilized. With it, augmented reality can be created as player models from the game are placed inside of real-life environments. Pictures can be taken using their varied poses, but it’s certainly nothing to write home about.
During match play, there’s a complete lack of commentary, which really takes away from the experience. The only thing you’ll hear is an announcer stating whose serve or point it is. That really isn’t enough, leaving the game feeling a bit hollow in regards to its audio. All of the on court action sounds fine, and the crowd sounds really good, but there wasn’t enough emphasis placed on creating realistic broadcast presentation. Next time around, it would be great if some sort of commentary was added in. Other than those mentioned complaints, Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition has solid presentation qualities, with visuals that are in tune with what a console game would employ. Sure, it doesn’t feature the same amount of fidelity, but that’s to be expected. Its overall look is of high quality, with realistic looking character models and some of the best celebrations I’ve ever seen in a tennis game. The addition of a meter-based and camera-friendly slow motion power shot was also a nice touch.
Tennis and general sports fans who’ve invested in a PS Vita at launch can expect a solid, competent and feature-filled version of the tactical sport in Virtua Tennis 4. SEGA should be proud of this release, although there are some areas where improvements could be made, in order to deliver a superior experience. Despite those mentioned drawbacks, the game is well worth it for anyone interested in taking serves, aces, returns and volleys on the go. This digital serve is nowhere near being a fault, but it needs some extra oomph and polish before becoming a bonifide ace.
This review is based on a copy of the game, which we received for review purposes.