Virtua Tennis 4 World Tour Edition Review
Reviewed on Sony PS Vita
The launch of a new console always brings excitement, joy, wonder and a varied bundle of launch titles. All too often though, unfortunately, these first generation titles have had limited development compared to their future siblings in order to support the console in its nascent stages. With the PlayStation Vita, Sony’s impressive new piece of portable kit, Sega have opted to publish Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition to found their stable of titles on day one. Choosing this option brings benefits in that the game is fundamentally a port of that which already exists on the home consoles and therefore should only need porting, but challenges given the said port needs to be top-notch in order to show off the Vita’s capabilities. It probably also needs to make full use of all the available functions, in this case the touch-screen controls, to encourage gamers to part with their hard-earned cash in order to play this game on that console. In Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition Sega have fallen somewhere in-between where they do and don’t want to be.
The Virtua brand is a big one for Sega with a variety of titles sporting this precursive language ahead of the descriptive title - racing, fighter, tennis - and Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition is the most recent version of their tennis games converted to Vita code. The series typically sports an arcade style with, in this case, a whole world tour available to participate in with the aim of building the skills, reputation, fanbase and bank balance of your newly created avatar (using the Vita’s camera you’re asked to take a picture of yourself to help build your tennis player - do not be alarmed as it’s quite likely this will resemble Frankenstein’s monster) as you move from season to season, training, playing matches and hopefully competing in the four majors which are equivalent to the real tour’s key tournaments in everything but name. There are a multitude of other modes that you can partake in - arcade, for example, where you can play full in Paris or London as Maria Sharapova for instance, but the World Tour is where most time early on will be spent.
The World Tour is career mode as done by Sega with awareness that Mario has a tennis game, too. The tournaments and matches are generally great. The actual tennis match is enjoyable to play and varied enough to make it interesting from your point of view, with the ability to play drop shots, lobs, slices and smashes as well as choosing where to hit it and how powerfully to do so. As you improve you gain access to different play styles and can nurture a baseline power player or a serve volley exponent who enjoys moving up to the net. The opponents you face have different skills and styles too meaning each match needs a different process, an alternative tactic and always requires total concentration. This all becomes much more obvious as you move up the difficulty levels. The rest of the tour is very bizarre. You can train by hitting cards in order to gain a winning poker hand; you are asked to serve into a goal past the defensively positioned goalie and defenders. You hear from a guy building a fan club and you can enter into a fancy dress doubles match where you play two clowns with tambourines as racquets. All great fun, the first time through. There’s not really enough to warrant playing the whole tour again, even on an increased difficulty. In fact, it’s unlikely you’d want to as the desire to just play a match becomes strong quite quickly. There are certain tour based trophies which may encourage folk to continue, but many will move to arcade mode or online (as an aside, the World Tour does allow online matches as part of it which is nice functionality ensuring some real world play occurs inside the fabricated world of your creation).
For anyone who has played Virtua Tennis 4 on the PS3 or Xbox 360 much of the game will be well known. What won’t be is that which is only possible via the Vita. All matches can be controlled via the touchscreen but the implementation is a little awkward, at least compared to the button inputs. You can move your character around and make shots using it, defining top spin or slice by the way you touch the screen (tap, swipe, direction etc.). It’s not precise enough though, not when you’re up against good quality opposition. You’ll long for the face buttons and will ignore the touchscreen after a very short while. There are some mini-games designed for the Vita specifically. The best of these is two player Vs. mode which allows for a top down view of the court and each player is controlled by inputs on the screen at the same time. Inventive, and fun for down the pub (if you ever took a Vita with you), but nothing else. It’s glorified Pong basically.
Online play is OK, as long as you have a rock solid connection. The quality of game online is varied. Normally there is no lag at all but if any is noticeable the game becomes nigh-on unplayable as response times are dulled meaning by the time you’ve managed to make Roger Federer move to return Nadal’s serve, the ball had long since passed. Ad hoc gameplay is available if there are a number of players in the same vicinity. Given the locality it’s unlikely there will be lag and therefore the quality of play should be as well executed as in single player mode, but this is something we were unable to test.
If you have just picked up your shiny PS Vita and you’re a tennis fan then Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition is absolutely for you. It’s a great example of the game in digital form. An arcade game ensuring that even the most challenged of gamer can pick it up, play and enjoy it whilst achieving success given the right settings. It has a variety of modes and is online enabled. It allows you to play as your favourite players from both the men's and women’s games and even allows for some first person Modern Tennis type action (which is frankly a bit rubbish but you have to try it at least once). It does everything you could ask from a tennis game. It looks amazing given it’s on a handheld and really could just be that PS3 version transposed onto a five inch OLED screen. So buy it. Enjoy it. But if you have a Virtua Tennis game already, or just aren’t that bothered by the game, forget it. It’s not packing anything which breaks a paradigm. It is the paradigm, and that’s something. But nothing more.