Realistic tennis play, including authentic players and physics; decent graphics; multiple modes, including online
Controls limited to Wii remote, with no nunchuck support; motion controls isolated to one mode and are poorly implemented; some concerns about integrity of online competition
The term “virtua” conjures up images of a bygone era in gaming, when blocky, polygonal fighters graced Virtua Fighter in mall video arcades. Sega’s Virtua Tennis, appropriating the same implication of virtual reality, first played out in arcades back in 1999. The series’ most recent iteration, Virtua Tennis 4, released as a multiplatform title on several systems, including Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii. The Wii version, for its part, certainly exhibits the necessary ingredients of a good hardcore tennis experience, but it also wraps them around some lamentable decisions, particularly in the realm of control, that ultimately sabotage the experience.
Virtua Tennis 4 is a quintessential sports title, with most of the expected trappings. The opening sequence is a splash screen of tennis pros set against a backdrop of pop music. The main menu is a slate of familiar gameplay modes, both for solo players and groups.
In short, there is plenty to do. There is a practice mode to become familiar with the game and work on basic and advanced serves and volleys. There is an exhibition mode for quick access to a single match. A world tour mode is a simulated career where a custom pro can be created and then deployed to the pro life: tournaments, conditioning, publicity charity stops, everything. There is even the obligatory (for Wii at least) party mode, with minigames accessible for multiple players. And yes, Wii’s iteration of the game also has online play that can be waged against friends or strangers.
To its credit, Virtua Tennis 4 gets many of the fundamentals down well. The physics of the game are realistic and take some time to master, a tribute to the authentic experience Sega seeks to impart. The players move with lifelike flow, even with Wii’s limitations, and the ball reacts to power shots and slices like it should. Grand Slam locations look pretty good, all things considered, and the courts seem to play a bit differently depending on whether they are clay, hard, or grass. Even the players have their own strengths and weaknesses, with momentum meters that help trigger special talents, such as enhanced defense or more powerful (but still realistic) shots; this gives some differentiation between the various pros available for use. The female players are every bit as capable as the men– in Virtua Tennis 4, Venus Williams can beat Andy Roddick.
All of that said, it is baffling why Sega chose to go the route it did with respect to the controls. First and foremost, the main game only supports the Wii remote held sidewise. There is no nunchuck support of any kind. This has the effect of reducing gameplay to NES proportions, with players using the d-pad to run around the court and the face buttons to serve and return. This is a clunky, unresponsive way to run around the court, and it leads to far more sloppy gameplay than it should. Why Sega didn’t include at least the option for nunchuck control is a head-scratcher.
Moreover, actual use of motion control in this tennis game is almost entirely lacking except in one isolated game mode– the “motion play” mode. This mode, played out in a first person arcade style, limits the player largely to swinging the remote and using the B button to advance or retreat from the net. Perhaps because it is such a minor, tacked-on component of the overall game, the motion controls are wonky and unrefined, and it is very easy to swing the remote and have the player fail to act. This is a stark contrast to Wii pack-in game Wii Sports, whose tennis game was far more fluid and responsive when it was released five years earlier.
One other note needs to be said about the online gameplay. The online worked quickly enough and matching with opponents was easy, but it seemed that many of the opponents hit perfect serves, right on the line at full power, every single time, and still more returned serves with unstoppable force. It is possible that this is simply a reflection of tough online competition, but given some of the history with Nintendo’s online infrastructure, it did raise the question of whether or not the integrity of online gameplay had been compromised.
Overall, there certainly are some postives about Virtua Tennis 4, but they are largely overwhelmed by the decision to go with controls straight out of the 1980s. This is even worse when compared to Wii’s other major tennis franchise, EA’s Grand Slam Tennis, which offers a full lineup of control configurations and far more robust and refined use of motion, not to mention an EA online infrastructure that is superior to the Nintendo Wi-Fi service used by Sega. Virtua Tennis 4 isn’t a terrible game, but given that there is a better option on Wii, system owners looking for their tennis fix probably want to look elsewhere.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.