PS Vita Review – Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition

More impressive than anything related to the tennis itself in Virtua Tennis 4 World Tour Edition is how well it takes advantage of the PlayStation Vita. The tennis gameplay itself is all well and good, sure, but the game’s use of Vita tech is something to behold, hopefully to become an example to other developers in the way these manly short shorts should be an example to other athletes.

Extremely rare for a major retail release on a handheld is any sort of multiplayer that only requires one system and one copy of the game. In a two-player mode, two people will view the court from a top-down perspective and use the touch screen to direct their shots. If need be, they can each use their nearest analog stick to move. It’s not very deep or detailed, but when you’ve got two gamers and one Vita, it’s not a bad thing to have around. Definitely not the highlight of the game, but it’s a simple, accessible, fun addition. Already having a game that could be called “good enough” on its hands, Sega could have shipped this out the door without this mode and been fine, but going the extra mile with this little addition it indicative of a company really caring about its product and wanting to give its customers the best experience possible. Tennis.

In addition to the two-player touch matches, some new minigames have been added to the Vita version. These include one that allows players to rotate their Vitas one way or the other, which will rock a pirate ship the players are trying to smack the targets off of. In another mode, players can play matches from a first-person perspective and move their Vita for a full 360-degree view of the arena. It’s a great tech demo, if nothing else.

Multiple control methods — one using the Vita’s touch screen and the other using the analog sticks — allow the player to use whichever feels most natural. Within the button-mapped side of things, four varied schemes are available. You can even have your cake and eat it too by using a hybrid system that uses one stick and some touch controls. This fully serves the needs and preferences of virtually everyone that could possibly play the game; the amount of consideration that went into this is worthy of applause. Touch controls work decently for placing shots, but feel a little bit off when it comes to moving the athlete around the court. This becomes especially obvious in some mini games, particularly Egg Collector, the nature of which requires the player to frantically run around the court in rather unorthodox paths. No matter how much I tried to use the touch screen, I kept subconsciously drifting back to the buttons, except of course in the two-player mode. Of tennis.

Virtua Tennis 4 looks surprisingly good, especially considering the fact that it’s a launch title. Sports games have a way of looking better and better as a generation rolls on, and if that turns out to be the case with Vita, then look out. VT4 looks like a video game, don’t get me wrong, but the realism shown surpasses expectations, especially for a portable. Better yet, there’s no framerate drop when the action gets intense. Tennis action. Intense. (I know.)

What’s important to note is that, despite being more of an arcade game than a simulation, it might not make casual players care about tennis. There will be exceptions of course, but I expect more often than not, if you don’t already like tennis, this won’t be the game that converts you. People who don’t like traditional racing games can still tend to enjoy games like ModNation Racers, and I have personal experience deploring golf while loving the heck out of Hot Shots Golf for Vita, but Virtua Tennis 4 seems less likely to be a missionary for its genre, though it’s packed with undeniable positives. Of tennis.

World Tour Mode is for more serious players, and its previous linearity has been broken up a little bit on Vita. Going to incredible depth, players stick their own face on a character, then take him/her all over the world improving skills, training, and all around moving up the ladder of world domination. Of tennis. It’s rewarding to take someone from the lowly scraps of tennis hell, rise up and be like “I am going to tennis the shit out of someone today,” and then do it. Player creation begins with snapping a picture with the Vita’s front camera. I didn’t realize my backwards hat would end up looking like a black eye, but oh well.

The real fun of World Tour Mode goes beyond the tennis and into the careful management of time and resources. The learning curve stays steady, gradually introducing new types of training and branching pathways, leading to many critical moments of decision. Tennis decisions. Do a good enough job beating the scrubs and getting your character into top shape, and your virtual alter-ego can take on the world’s real champions, such as cover models Nadal and Federer.

Those looking for less of a commitment can get into the token Arcade Mode, jump online for some network battles, or get into some ad-hoc fun with up to three other local players. Of tennis.

While what’s here is all done well, there is something of a lack of depth. World Tour Mode is five seasons long, but I don’t see this as something I want to go through over and over again. The game includes all the minigames and Arcade Mode fun of its console counterpart, but those that own that version are seeing nothing new here. Even gamers coming in fresh might not find mountains of playtime with those modes; the minigames in particular could have benefited from multiplayer modes. Playing them against the CPU is fun, but the buzz dies down quickly, as it tends to do with most things “mini.” This isn’t to say anything is necessarily bad about the game, but just that it’s not going to set the world afire.

Ever the more lighthearted tennis game than its competitors, the arcade feel of Virtua Tennis 4 is a welcome addition to the Vita lineup. It handles well, looks nice and has a style that lends itself very well to portability. Of tennis.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ World Tour Mode and the bundle of minigames are better suited for a portable than consoles.

+/- Vita additions may appear tacked-on, but they’re exactly the kind of teach demos fans would be wondering about if they’d not been included (just don’t expect to still be wowed by them come this time next year).

7 out of 10