Platforms: PlayStation 3 (tested), Xbox 360, Wii
If there’s one thing that Virtua Tennis does better than 2K's Top Spin franchise, it’s the overall presentation. Virtua Tennis 4 may not be as truly realistic as Top Spin 4 in terms of gameplay, but it’s arguably more fun to play thanks to the series of mini games and the atmosphere that it delivers.
The sport of tennis can be explosive, especially if it’s a match between two players going all out in front of thousands of screaming fans. Unfortunately, not every tennis match can be like this and it can be very boring to watch. Top Spin 4’s atmosphere is much like the latter; tt can be fairly boring to play as the only sound you can hear is the grunting of the players.
Thankfully, Virtua Tennis 4 is much more exciting to play. It’s not entirely realistic, but the background music included in each court adds to the atmosphere and livens up the "gentleman’s sport”. The crowd is also far more animated, cheering enthusiastically for each winning shot played (as opposed to the moderate claps that are heard in Top Spin 4…).
The atmosphere isn’t all that Virtua Tennis 4 has done right, either; the general gameplay has improved dramatically since Virtua Tennis 2009 (which is possibly the weakest link in the Virtua Tennis franchise to date). It was too casual for its own good, but at the same time it was hard for anyone to win a point because it was far too easy to return the ball.
Virtua Tennis 4 makes this more difficult, which makes it more realistic and interesting to play. It’s all about positioning yourself at the right time on the court and using the right type of shot at the right time. There’s also no sprint button in this game, so you won’t see any long unrealistic rallies like in Top Spin 4.
Another great addition to the game is the all-new "super shot” meter. Each player in the game has their own strengths, and if you play to that strength your meter will fill up, allowing you to unleash a fast, winning shot. This feature is great, especially if you want to end the point quickly. The only downside to this feature is that some players will find it harder to fill the meter than others. Andy Roddick’s strength is his serve and, subsequently, the meter only fills up when he’s serving.
Speaking of players, old-school tennis fans may dislike the fact that Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras are nowhere to be seen. The only old-school player in this game is Jim Courier, unless you get the PS3 version (which adds Stefan Edberg, Patrick Rafter and Boris Becker to the mix). In terms of current players, there’s the usual line up of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Caroline Wozniacki. Maria Sharapova fans will be happy to know she’s in Virtua Tennis 4 since she was criminally omitted from Top Spin 4.
However, Virtua Tennis 4 is only mildly better than its predecessors. The courts and environments look bright, but some of the character models are horribly inaccurate. Why does Novak Djokovic have brown hair and not black hair? Also, Svetslana Kuznetsova has a nose as large as WWE’s Triple H! At least Caroline Wozniacki looks cuter than she did in Top Spin 4…
My favourite feature in the whole game is the "World Tour” mode. Virtua Tennis’ iconic mini game training modes are here and are as fun as ever. There’s a serving exercise where you have to get the ball inside a soccer goal while trying to avoid the goalie and his defenders. My other favorite mini game is one that tasks you with guiding little chickens into their pen.
In the "World Tour” mode, you’ll play a full year of tennis as you try to win tournaments and gain your popularity in the tennis world. On top of that, you will improve your skills and even make new friends who can become your doubles partner too. The "World Tour” mode is much more fun and interactive than the monotonous career mode in Top Spin 4.
Virtua Tennis 4 is a step in the right direction for the series, and much more enjoyable than its current direct rival. The winning combination of improved gameplay and new game modes serves up a Roddick-sized ace.
Lasting Appeal: 9/10