SEGA Virtua Tennis: World Tour Edition (PS Vita)
A couple of weeks ago we took our first look at the PS Vita hardware
along with an overview of some launch titles and overall were very impressed, especially with the hardware (excluding the camera). Its success will very much depend on the games which are released for it though and at launch there have been a number of strong releases from the action packed Uncharted to surprisingly original Little Deviants.
SEGA are one of the first publishers to get behind the PS Vita and their launch week offering is Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition. With touch screen controls, online play and motion sensor functionality included in addition to the standard tennis modes it could offer something quite different to the average console experience.
As with many games on the PS Vita the developer has clearly looked to implement a console like experience as a core aim before adding device specific features to enhance the gameplay. For this reason the main gameplay in Virtua Tennis 4 will feel very familiar to those who have played the game on another format. We control our player with the left stick or d-pad and choose shot (Top Spin, Super Shot, Slice and lob) with the main buttons. The shots can be rotated round to different buttons if we wish and serving see's us press a button to throw the ball, move our stick to aim and press again at the appropriate point on the power meter to hit.
Expanding the controls in the game are super shots and concentration. As we play through games our choice of shot and quality of shot are rated and a bar fills at the top of the screen, for example hit a great serve and it increases. Position the player in advance of a return rather than get there at the last minute and it rises further. Get past half way and we are able to perform more advanced running shots and fill the bar to enable Super Shot. A super shot drains the bar but we get a return which executed properly is close to unplayable by our opponent. Mess it up though and the bar is empty meaning we could lose the point in a fast rally against an opponent with higher bar level.
There are a wide range of game modes in Virtua Tennis 4 which start with practice challenges to get us up and running, before moving into World Tour (Career Mode), Arcade (Play Specific Tournaments), Exhibition (single games), Network (online games) and tennis themed Mini-Games. As expected all of the main game modes follow the standard tennis format with all court types catered for as well as a wide selection of real players and men's singles, women's singles and doubles game types available.
The mini-games offer a bit of fun to break up the standard gameplay, want to mix tenpin bowling with tennis (using oversized balls of course) this is your mode. Fancy playing with bombs, no problem.
In terms of Vita specific functionality we have basic touch screen controls in the main game. For example we can tap the screen to perform our shot but it is VT Apps that most use our system. In one app we get a players eye view of the court and as we move the PS Vita round we are essentially moving the characters head. It is an interesting take on the tennis experience. Touch VS mode allows two players to play a Pong like top down game on the same console with half the screen each as we touch to hit and move around.
Rock the Boat is less successful as we simply aim at targets on a boat which tilts with the Vita but if the player wants to have a tennis great in the palm of their hand then VT cam is the way to go as we can place a model of the players anywhere using the camera and take a picture for sharing. Creating a player also allows us to take a picture of our face to be morphed into the game.
Graphics and Audio
Tennis differs from many other subject matters in that the main gameplay area is pretty sparse with minimal characters on it. Even in Football based games there are larger teams in play which helps fill out the space and create a more impressive look and feel. This poses an interesting dilemma for the developers because they need to make the main graphics functional and as realistic as possible while adding varied and detailed backgrounds that don't distract from the gameplay. On the whole this has been achieved well in Virtua Tennis 4 as we get some nice fluid character animations with various detailed stadia or arenas. There are some nice textures to the grass and clay based courts and the more famous players all have post point or match moves that are familiar to those who watch the sport.
Dotted around the game we get photographs of famous players past and present but the one area where the game is let down slightly is their in-game representations. It is fair to say that the main gameplay shows each to be unique and distinct but when we cut to replays and close ups the players often look a pale imitation of the real thing.
On the audio front there isn't much the developer can do with tennis. We get some basic menu music and the in-game sounds are all a good representation of the real sounds from a tennis match.
One of the stand out aspects of the Virtua Tennis 4 user experience is how easy it is to pick up and get playing. Those new to the franchise can fire up the game and head into any of the modes right away and it doesn't take much to work out how everything works because the controls are very much based on industry standards such as the serve power bar. For those that want to there is a nice practice mode that takes no more than 10 minutes to walk the player through the basics and experienced or novice players can also experiment with the touch controls in there too. We found that the traditional control method was best to use as it offered us more control but over time this could change.
While the game is certainly easy to pick up and play it also offers a challenge. Just because we can get playing in a matter of minutes doesn't mean we can win in that same timeframe as the Vita powered opponents are skilful. That said the sense of achievement when we win our first big rally, game or match is great.
This is also a game which offers a decent level of longevity. Playing through the World Tour mode has the potential to last for countless hours and the addition of mini-games, unlockable characters/venues plus online play further expands the value aspect.
Virtua Tennis 4 World Tour Edition doesn't reinvent the tennis genre but it does exactly what we hoped the better PS Vita games would do; it provides a console like experience in a portable device. Solid tennis gameplay with plenty of game modes and unlocks make it one of the best PS Vita games at launch.