Sega serves an ace - Review By Subskin
Alas, no game is perfect, and as a reviewer it's my job to point that out. Virtua Tennis has some great features. Unfortunately, it also bounces like a bowling ball in some areas. Before you rush out to buy it -- not that it isn't sold out everywhere in the U.S. -- check your head.
The behind-the-back view looks cool, but you lose some depth perception.
First, gameplay isn't all a bed of roses. When you reach the higher level computer players you'll quickly realize that judging height is all but impossible. Whenever you are at the net, the computer will lob the ball over your head. If you press A to swing too soon, you'll slice air and watch the ball bounce behind you. Probably 70% of my point losses come from trying to overhead smash a ball that is about ten feet higher than I thought because of the default overhead viewpoint. Similarly, the alternate behind-the-back viewpoint makes depth perception difficult to judge. Even if you can get over that, the behind-the-back view is only available in one player mode.
My second gripe with Virtua Tennis is also about the gameplay -- one button ain't enough. Sure it's great for simplicity, but it can be very frustrating when you volley a ball that you meant to backhand -- the volley pops the ball straight up, while the backhand would have skimmed it over the net at top speed. Sure, you've got a lob button, but a turbo button would be all the better; lobs only work against humans since they can't tell how high the ball is. A turbo button would eliminate the problem of falling down for a ball that you don't mind letting your doubles partner get.
There is sort of a third button -- you can use the L and R triggers to tell your computer doubles partner to attack the net, hang back at the baseline, or play normally. This invites a great deal of strategy when your partner has a strong forehand and you have great volley skills. However, the computer doubles partners have a horrible time deciding whether or not to switch lateral sides with a human player. One of the great thrills of four player doubles in Virtua Tennis is yelling "Switch!" and saving a great play. The inability to communicate to the computer your desire to switch (or to beat him down when he doesn't back you up) is frustrating beyond belief. This wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that you have to play a number of doubles matches with a computer partner to advance in World Tournement Mode.
The player models looks kind of creepy up close. This one looks down, as if to say, "Hello little girl. Soon you will be my soup." That's what I got out of it, anyway.
Speaking of World Tournement, the new players you can buy kind of suck. In comparison to the real-life pro tennis players who are selectable at the start of the game, picking up some fake country club-looking poseurs isn't a real big privilege. And the real players that are in Virtua Tennis are somewhat dated. Sure, Kafelnikov's still doing well. Courier, on the other hand, has retired, and he's the only American in the game! Sampras or Agassi would have been great additions, and more recognizable than say, Albert Costa. Better yet, how about some women? I have dear friends I'd be willing to trade to cannibals for the chance to play with Anna Kournikova.
Lastly, Virtua Tennis' sound is mediocre. Hitting a tennis ball sounds real enough, but that still sounds like opening a can of Pringle's. Player's grunts are generic and weak; adding Monica Seles as one of the women would have solved that, Sega. The music is also boring, repetitive drivel. About the only saving grace is the fact that the announcers all speak in their native language -- but only on the arcade stadiums. The tournaments Sega added for the home edition all use the American announcer.
The Final Word
The fact that I have to nit-pick what language court-side announcers speak in should tell you that Virtua Tennis is a phenomenal game. The controls are easy to learn but offer enough depth to satisfy the most hard-core sports gamer. Graphically, the game is stunning. As you might have noticed, I keep returning to the Soul Calibur analogy -- a great arcade game boosted by new gameplay modes that add many more gaming hours. Virtua Tennis uses this formula to great success. It lives up to the hype, and then some.
Highs: Easy but satisfying gameplay, jaw-dropping graphics, zero load times.
Lows: Difficult to judge height of ball, stupid doubles partners, Kournikova-less.
Other: 1-4 players, VMU Compatible (Save takes 2 blocks), VGA Box Compatible, Jump Pack Compatible, Arcade Stick Compatible.
Intro (MPEG) - Virtua Tennis sports a TV-style intro. [Big (9.3M)] - [Med (5M)] - [Small (1.1M)]
Gameplay 1 (MPEG) - Arcade mode doubles match against a computer team. [Big (12M)] - [Med (6.4M)] - [Small (1.4M)]
Gameplay 2 (MPEG) - Singles exhibition: Henman vs. Moya. [Big (13.2M)] - [Med (7.1M)] - [Small (1.5M)]
(out of a possible 10)
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