Roger Federer…Average! Rafael Nadal….Passable! The Boss…now there’s a true tennis great – or at least that was my experience when playing Virtua Tennis 4. But enough boasting, let me tell you how I achieved such a meteroic rise to fame…
Being new to the Virtua Tennis ‘racquet’ I thought it wise best not to dive straight in, so first I had a play with the Party games. Here you can play, with up to 3 friends, a selection of games ranging from Royal Poker, through Egg Collector to a Bomb match. As exotic as it seems, they are just a combination of exercises to train your timing and accuracy along with a small mental strategy challenge.
In these modes you have a selection of 21 players including modern greats such as Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray (the term ‘great’ is used very loosely on one of those) and a handful of legends, although three of the four legends are currently PlayStation 3 exclusives and certain players need to be unlocked. This is the same for all modes except the World Tour where you create your own player.
After this I went onto the Exhibition matches where I practiced my match play in both single and doubles. I found this a good place to practice all my different shots using the different controls (A for top spin, B for flat, X for slice and Y for lob/drop shot). Once I felt comfortable enough with this I moved on to theArcademode where you get to play through the final of each of the Grand Slam tournaments and get scored dependant on how well you play.
With all the tournaments wrapped up in pretty sharp fashion, I was brimming with confidence and felt it was time to test myself out in the career mode, or World Tour as it is called here.
Have you ever wanted to play a sports game where the career mode is a mix of arcade tennis and a board game? If the answer is ‘Yes’ then you need to seek help or get yourself a copy of Virtua Tennis 4. As daft as that sounds it actually works pretty well, although it is probably equal parts enjoyment and frustration.
The idea behind the career mode is that you travel the world going from tournament to tournament, with the aim being to win each of the ‘big 4’ – the Australia Challenge, the French Cup, the England Tennis Classic and the US Super Tennis, minus the correct names due to licensing issues. To add variety between the tournaments there are various training, charity events and rest activities scattered across the globe that you can participate in. So far, so standard. The twist comes with the movement…each activity is laid out in a path you have to follow with several areas that branch off, but which all lead to the next big tournament, and you are given a set number of days to reach this tournament before facing a penalty. You are given tokens by your coach ranging from 1 to 4 that denote the number of spaces you are allowed to move and each time you use one it is replaced with another one, with the value supposedly random. Each move equates to one day, regardless of how many spaces you move, and each activity you participate in uses some stamina.
To gain entry to the tournaments you need to earn stars that are paid out by participating in PR events or winning training matches or satellite tournaments you enter along the way. This is balanced out with the training exercises that are used to increase the skill levels of your player. These are split into four different categories: stroke skills, defensive skills, tactical skill and net-play skills. If you have not earned enough stars to qualify for a tournament, you have to skip it unless it is one of the big 4, in which case you have to participate in a qualifying tournament before the main tournament. When I first did this, there was no discernable disadvantage to doing this as there was no impact on my stamina. When your stamina drops, you are more likely to pick up an injury which can severely impact your performance on the court; however the lack of any loss of stamina during the qualifying tournament removes any planning needed along the course of your career. This ensures you can still play well at each tournament. The Boss considers to be a big let down as ultimately what’s the point of putting in the effort to the extras if you can just coast through to the big tournaments anyway?
Despite being tied in to the tennis formula, the training mini-games are fairly varied and enjoyable – who wouldn’t like smacking a football into a big goal with a tennis racket, or trying to blow your opponent up with a huge bomb that is slowly counting down? This keeps things ticking over nicely until you can get to the next tournament without boredom kicking in, whilst boosting your players’ stats at the same time. Even the smaller tournaments have had some effort put into them to try and add variety with singles, doubles and even fancy dress matches(!), where you get a multiplier for the cash and stars for winning based on how outlandish and weird the costume your player is wearing. These new costume pieces are unlocked, along with standard clothes and equipment as you progress through the game, increasing your rank and skills and for completing tournaments. No matter how serious you try to take this game, I defy you not to smirk when you are trying to hit the ball with a baguette wearing a shirt, tie and trousers.
Every sports game ultimately lives or dies on the strength of one thing…does it compare well to the actual sport? Virtua Tennis 4 is a bit of a mixed bag here. It has neither gone for a full on arcade game nor a true to life simulation, but instead has planted its flag firmly in the middle ground between the two. Unfortunately this means that you don’t get the best of either world. With all the training, mini-games, and PR events to attend, you would think that it is firmly an arcade game, but the actual matches have no OTT flair in them and the whole game doesn’t seem to have any idea what it wants to be. That being said; what is on offer is very solid with matches having a good ‘ebb and flow’ about them. At times though it does seem a bit too easy to cheat the opposition, especially in doubles games, not that The Boss didn’t make full use of this.
The choice of tennis games on the Xbox360 is currently limited to either this or Top Spin 4. Having played both, The Boss can say that despite it being close, the Virtua Tennis franchise just manages to take the advantage.
The Boss says “although not an ace it still does enough to win the match”