The scoring in tennis makes no sense. Why do you sometimes get fifteen points and other times you only get ten points? And why do the points eventually go away and the announcer starts talking about "deuces" and "advantages?" What's with this business of saying "love" when you really mean "zero?" I can't imagine tennis is much fun to watch. As a spectator sport, I'd rank it up there with bowling, but tennis has someone else bowling back.
It was simple, but beautiful. And it was also fairly deep. The interface in Virtua Tennis let you guide the ball if you finessed it just right. And as a multiplayer game, Virtua Tennis was a showstopper. Get four people in a room with four Dreamcast controllers and you had some of the finest four-player gaming on any console ever. The interface was so smooth and the learning curve was so accessible that even if you weren't very good, you could play competitively.
As a sequel, Sega Sports Tennis 2K2 stacks up just fine, although considering this convoluted title, you might not know it's a sequel. Virtua Tennis opened with a snappy "VIR-tua Tennis!" from the announcer. "Sega Sports Tennis 2K2!" doesn't roll off the tongue quite so easily. But once you get through the first round of menu screens, you'll find a souped up version of Virtua Tennis. It has the same basic interface, the same basic graphics engine, and the same basic gameplay, but with plenty of little tweaks and additions.
The sound has been revamped, with a variety of impact noises and reverb effects based on whether you're indoors or outdoors. The graphics are a little sharper, showing more of the tennis courts and their surroundings. This means you can get a better sense for the location when you're playing in exotic places like Australia's Gold Coast, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, and Casablanca. The character animations are a lot better, too. They still have an eerie marionette quality up close, but they look less like scary flesh-eating zombies. There's obviously been a lot of work done to make them more human. Your player will applaud, bounce a ball, or twirl her racket. There's even a new split screen view to show off the more detailed actions between sets.
You read that right. Her racket. Tennis 2K2 adds female players. Instead of including hidden players to be unlocked as Virtua Tennis did, the entire roster of sixteen players is available from the start. It's split evenly between famous male and female players. I know what you're thinking, but the answer is, 'no'; Anna Kournikova is not in there. But there's still a good selection of female players, most notably the Williams sisters lending the game their regal presence.
The World Circuit mode is a new single-player campaign and it's the most notable difference in this sequel. You create your own players and improve their stats by playing mini-games. These are basically the equivalent of those driving tests in Gran Turismo. Most of them are variations on the mini-games from Virtua Tennis, but there are some new ones.
The Disc Spin, which involves aiming the ball as a giant Go set, is a real challenge. But unlike the relentless pass/fail states of Gran Turismo's tests, each time you try one of these mini-games, your player's stats get a little better. Their stats then determine how well they perform in matches against the AI, in which you win money to unlock new courts and buy accessories. The World Circuit proceeds along a calendar and matches are only held during certain times of the year. With the character development and once-a-year matches, the stakes feel a lot higher. Since you can use your World Circuit characters in Exhibition and Tournament modes, they have a life outside the campaign. Because of all this, Tennis 2K2 has a much more compelling role-playing element than Virtua Tennis.
Tennis 2K2 is also a much more strategic game with its new interface and physics system. In addition to the standard shot and lob buttons, there's an option for slices with backspin. Where you hit the ball in relation to its arc is much more important now, as is how you position your player before swinging. This means the volleys are much more intense and the game has an almost chess-like quality as you try to outsmart and outmaneuver your opponent. You're not just whacking the ball back anymore. The down side of this is that it's not as easy to jump into. Whereas Virtua Tennis was as fun and accessible as pong, Tennis 2K2 is a step closer to being a serious simulation. And now the performance gap between new players and experienced players is a little wider, so the game has lost a little of its multiplayer appeal.
But as a sequel that improves on the original and gives experienced players a reason to shell out another $40, Tennis 2K2 is a smashing success. I think I just made a tennis pun, but I'm not sure, which just goes to show that you don't have to love tennis to appreciate Tennis 2K2. The only prerequisite for appreciating this must-have game is the Dreamcast you'll need to run it.