|I admit it: When we got Virtua Tennis in the mail I thought two
things. First, I was disappointed that there were no female pros included in the game.
After all, not being a tennis fan at all, the only players Ive really heard of
lately are Anna Kournikonov and, well, Anna Kournikonov. There are those two sisters from
Compton who have been ripping things up, but their names have yet to be engrained on my
brain. Second, I thought it was pretty dang funny that everybody was so excited about a
tennis game. Pong was a tennis game, and as far as I could see, why bother making any
more? Well, Ive changed my mind about the why bother aspect. Virtua Tennis is a
blast, and one of the few four-player games available for the DC right now. If you
havent played it, youre missing out.
Basically, this is an arcade port that hasnt gotten a whole lot more complicated in its conversion. As noted before, you can play up to four players, and you have a selection of ten (all-male) pros to choose from. For those of you more tennis savvy than I, the pros include Kafelnikov, Courier, Pioline, Euler, and more. There are three modes to choose from: Arcade, Exhibition, and World Circuit.
Arcade mode is a straight climb through the ranks of tennis stardom. It looks like Sega didnt get licensing rights to the different stadiums, so instead of Wimbledon you have the "Old English Championship" and so forth. Still, there is a good variety of courts to play on, including carpet, grass, clay, and hard. The courts are also located in different countries, and the announcer at each setting speaks the native language. So, for example, in France the announcer speaks French, in America he speaks American, and in Britain he speaks British.
The Exhibition mode is great for a multi-player rampage. Here, you can set different variables, such as Deuce on or off and the number of games. You can also play either singles or doubles in this mode, and you can play with or against computer opponents as well as the flesh-and-blood variety.
The World Circuit is the single-player "adventure" mode, exclusive to the DC version. You play along, earning money as you win matches, or when you successfully complete a training level. Training is varied and fun. Sometimes you have to hit balls at targets, or you must get them all into barrels at the end of the court, or you must knock obstacles out of the court. Mostly the training favors a particular kind of stroke and accuracy.
Once youve gotten a taste of a little prize money, you can head to the pro shop where you can restring your racket, get some energy drinks, contract a doubles partner, buy new outfits, or unlock new characters and courts for play in the Arcade and Exhibition modes. As with most World Circuit modes in most games, you continue along this way until youre ranked #1. And, as is the danger, it does get repetitive. Its too easy to move along in the rankings, so as long as youre willing to keep playing youll keep advancing, and its only a matter of time before you win the whole thing. I never really felt challenged, and I lost interest in the single-player mode fairly quickly.
Control in Virtua Tennis is incredibly simple. Basically, there are two buttons: lob and hit. You vary your strokes by pushing the different buttons and aiming differently. You have some amount of control over how deep or shallow your hit is, and whether its to the left or right. Other than that, what kind of stroke you perform is dependant on your position in relation to the ball. If its coming a certain way youll do a forehand, another way youll do a backhand, and if its high youll smash it. Your player does jump for the ball when its just out of reach, and sometimes that pays off. One of my complaints about Virtua Tennis is that the controls are overly simple. If you want to invest a whole lot of time in getting good at the game, there isnt a lot to learn. Its a lot like a fighting game with a really shallow move system. Still, its this simplicity that makes Virtua Tennis so easy to pick up. You should be able to defeat the Arcade mode easily on your first time playing the game, especially in doubles mode.
The graphics are, of course, as pretty as weve come to expect from the DC. However, there are some notable shortcomings. First, when your player does make a leap for a ball on a clay or grass court, they come up spotless. Even a tennis-moron like me has seen plenty of grimy tennis stars sweating out those last few games. Along those lines, the courts dont change at all throughout the game theres no scuffing or footprints. Also, the replays leave a lot to be desired. First of all, they can only be seen right after a score, and they can only be viewed at the angle the DC chooses. That angle is almost always the least interesting one, and it looks like there are about two different angles for showing replays (four if you count both sides of the court). The replay shows the player who hit the scoring point, but not the player who missed it or any of the lead up to that point. And if the winning hit is a smash, theres a good chance you wont see the ball at all because it is too high to get into the cameras shot. Overall, the graphics are terribly mediocre, but good enough to satisfy.
While Virtua Tennis is much more fun than I ever expected, its not a perfect game. What makes it good is that you can load it up with a bunch of friends and participate in some fairly mindless multiplayer action. Beyond that it doesnt hold up too well. The single-player mode is lackluster unless youre a real tennis fan, and the arcade mode is just doofy. Still, the exhibition mode is worth a good chunk of gaming enjoyment, and as Ive said repeatedly, this is a really fun multiplayer game.