Smash Court Tennis and two offerings from both Top Spin and now Virtua Tennis have proved that tennis is a more popular genre on the Xbox 360 than many people would expect. With Summer well and truly evident across Europe and Wimbledon set to kick off in June, Virtua Tennis 2009 has been released by SEGA, but has it proved to be ace, or a load of balls?
As with previous titles in series, the Sega Professional Tennis (SPT) Tour returns full of brand new court games, tournaments and events. The rather fun task of creating a player to compete against the world’s best has been improved immensely from Virtua Tennis 3 - with a wider range of customisation options and styles available. Not only is there a lot of them, but they are also very easy to use. Possibly one of the more authentic features is being able to choose the way your player serves and stands. Every little detail is covered and it really is one of the best player creation tools available.
Once you’ve badly re-created yourself (in my case anyway), players are greeted to the World Map which has been significantly enhanced to be more life-like with players able to select each and every country to choose as their home. Depending on the country you choose to be your home, determines your coach which unfortunately left me with England’s previous number one and now BBC pundit, Tim Henman. Oh dear!
Your coach will help you develop in three different areas: Groundstrokes, Footwork & Techniques and Serve & Volley. Points for each category are earned in practice matches as well as earning them in the improved Tennis Academy. The Tennis Academy used to be a place in which you could only earn medals. This is the same in Virtua Tennis 2009 but now, depending on the activity completed, points are earned for one of the three areas. Fully completing an area, leads to new playing styles for the player to occupy them self to.
Another way to improve in each area is to compete in Court Games, one of the most popular features to come out of the Virtua Tennis series. Some of the classics make a welcome return but it’s the new ones that prove to be the more exciting such as Pirate Wars, in which players defeat the attacking pirate ships by returning their balls and avoiding cannonballs and Block Buster, in which players destroy the blocks with a powerful and accurate shot. These new Court Games continue to provide a more entertaining way of developing the in-game players.
The SPT Tour is also newly structured with players having to make their way through the one-hundred ‘Amateur’ ranks before onto the ‘Professional’ ranks. Whilst it is most definitely more time-consuming, this increases the game’s lifespan. Other new inclusions to the SPT Tour are the cut-scenes of your created player winning the tournaments, random sponsorship and charity events which often involve players dressing up in fancy dress and having to pay for instant drinks and how low stamina can cause injuries, leaving players out for a number of weeks. All these features improve the SPT Tour to a great extent and will keep players happily entertained for the vast majority of the game.
Virtua Tennis 2009 contains Xbox Live support, matching that of the previous title, with ranked and player matches on offer. The only change in the sequel comes in the form of online leaderboards, a new inclusion which boasts a more competitive experience. In doing so, you’ll find less players quitting out of matches and therefore creating a more enjoyable game.
And what would a tennis title be without big name stars? Virtua Tennis 2009 contains twenty professional well-known tennis names including the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and, Scotland’s own, Andy Murray. All twenty players have been superbly recreated into their virtual selves from their facial appearance to the clothes they wear. The rest of the game’s graphics however are quite like mixed doubles. On one hand, the environments and stadiums have been created very nicely with everything looking realistic, though at the same time, keeping that Arcade style everyone is familiar with, whilst on the other hand some of the character designs, which are evident on the game’s loading screens aren’t pleasant viewing.
This problem wouldn’t be too bad if the loading screens were short, but with matches, tournaments and court games taking a good while to load, on many occasions I found myself waiting in the loading screen longer than the match or court game itself. This can be improved by installing the game to the hard drive, but this shouldn’t be essential in this day and age.
By far the most drastic change from the game’s predecessor is the new camera angle when playing a singles game. The camera is at a lower angle and a little bit closer to what Virtua Tennis players will be used to. In fact, it feels a lot like Top Spin. Whilst it may take a while to get the hang of, it is a great addition and one I’m sure Virtua Tennis fans will enjoy. Nevertheless, the camera angle for doubles games remains the same.
Yet another feature which remains the same is the game’s controls, which are as easy to get to grips with as holding a tennis racket, with the thumbstick your way of moving the player around the court and the four coloured buttons representing the four different types of shots (Ground strokes, slice and lob). Possibly one of the biggest flaws with Virtua Tennis 3 was the lob which wasn’t very effective. This has been significantly improved for the 2009 version of the game as lobs can now be pulled off with ease.
To conclude, SEGA has served up as a great sequel, fixing problems with Virtua Tennis 3 though going that step further with an extended SPT Tour. The online leaderboards are definitely the cream on the strawberries, making Virtua Tennis 2009 the best sports title of this summer.