Virtua Tennis 2009

Multiplayer sports games on consoles have seen massive success over the years, with two of the most important series being Pro Evolution Soccer and Virtua Tennis. The latter has, for generations now, provided arcade tennis thrills and addictive gameplay that only gets better with friends. The second installment on Playstation 3 is Virtua Tennis 2009, with a plethora of interesting play options ranging from offline mini games to online tournaments, but how does the game shape up?

Virtua Tennis

In terms of gameplay, the immediacy and excitement of the series remains, with tennis that's accessible to all, but with tremendous depth hidden by the small range of button controls available. With basic slice, spin and lob the main controls, anybody can pick up the controller and start enjoying a few games, while expert players will enjoy precisely positioning their player for every shot as they steadily build towards a majestic winner. The gameplay isn't punishing, since the on-screen player will do their bit to avoid the ball going out of play, allowing gamers to freely direct the ball around the court without the ryhthm being broken after every shot. For amateurs, unlike the real thing, good rallies can be built and players will be continually rewarded as they improve.

From the main menu, a friendly or online game can be started immediately, making use of a selection of famous players including Andy Roddick, Venus Williams, Andy Murray and Maria Sharapova, but the main attraction is the World Tour mode, where gamers can create a character, enter tournaments, undergo training, partake in mini games, buy tennis gear and, erm, rest to overcome the annoying stamina drain. Yes, as you take part in tournaments, and, in fact, even tiny 30-second long mini games, your character's stamina bar will plummet, forcing you to rest (for an entire week at a time) every couple of weeks. Quite honestly, it's a pure annoyance and adds nothing to the game, and certainly doesn't add realism. To add to the frustration, the main aim is to improve your overall ranking, moving up from the 100th ranked amateur player to the top pro in the world, but even consecutive tournament victories will see you move up only a couple of places, meaning that you are likely to spend hours and hours playing useless AI opponents before you meet anyone that poses a threat.

Virtua Tennis

Sadly, it's not just the slow progress and annoying stamina that add frustration to proceedings. The actual tennis play isn't broken, and still possesses that Virtua Tennis brilliance that should capture another generation of tennis fans, but there are criminal moments where the game freezes for just a split second, mid rally, before recovering and continuing. It's hard to imagine how this was missed during testing (and suggests it may have instead been ignored), but perhaps it can be fixed with future firmware updates. Somehow though, the game still flows brilliantly, and with a friend in mulitplayer game, there's nothing quite like it. Even better, if you can get four people around the console with a few drinks, then it can be absolutely superb.

The character models aren't particularly advanced, though the main players are recognizeable, while the courts range from pleasant smooth grass through to gaudy pink hardcourts. It seems fairly typical of a lot of Japanese-developed games in the current generation. As development costs rocket, some of the older franchises, strong as little as five years ago, no longer have the budget to compete with the American powerhouses. As a result, it's not a visual stunner, and instead relies on the addictive multiplayer gameplay aspects. Similarly, the sound is a bit weak, with some daft soft rock that will make many simply turn off the music completely, and a presenter who is entirely uninspiring. Only the familiar clonks and clunks of ball on racket feel right in the game, but once again this is they key ingredient, while the other trimmings are unnecessary distractions that the game would have been better without.

Virtua Tennis

Overall, Virtua Tennis 2009 is an enjoyable game, but a missed opportunity. If budget is an issue, perhaps Sega should worry less about packing in music and trivial features, forget about licenses and gimmicks and focus on what makes the game so enjoyable: addictive, fast and furious gameplay. Get rid of the glitches, make the trophies and tours a little more sensible, and Virtua Tennis could see an impressive return to form. In this iteration though, the game is good, but with flaws that prevent it from achieving any form of greatness.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Sega

Developer:

Sumo Digitial

Players:

1-4

Online:

2-4

Release:

2009-05-28

Trophies:

51

Review summary

Gameplay:

Addictive and enjoyable, but boring on tour

Graphics:

Unremarkable, but solid enough

Sound:

Utter pants to be honest

Lastability:

Massive tour, but it's multiplayer that rules

7.6

Volcanic

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John Marston

It ain't exactly a secret I didn't get these scars from falling over in church.