Ushered to the world as an arcade game straight from the nooks and crannies of cinemas and many other arcade centers, Virtua Tennis was probably the first tennis game that worked as a whole. In its current form, Virtua Tennis 2009 (VT2009) is the finest tennis arcade console game money can buy.
There, I said it. Traversing through the next few paragraphs would probably be a great idea if you need an in-depth look at the game’s finer nuances, but taking that statement to heart as you run to your nearest GameStop wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
Despite the fact that Sumo Digital have failed to conjure up anything special or revolutionary worth mentioning, they’ve created an iteration of Virtua Tennis that’s definitive and is, without a doubt, miles past its siblings in both crosscourt winning gameplay and visual-serving aces.
Graphically, VT2009 is a capable sports title in itself. Without turning your head towards its 2007 brother, you’ll probably find that it’s one of the best looking tennis games to date. Arguably, Sumo Digital has not altered the game’s visuals to a great extent; only being able to provide minor tweaks here and there to refine what was already a great looking title. To the untrained eye, hammering down-the-line winners may look like 2007, but to the obsessed, we can appreciate what the developers have done to bring forth a title that exceptionally improves from VT3 visually.
I’m not sure if it’s just my eyes deceiving me, but VT2009 seemed to possess HDR lighting effects this time around. The greener grasses of Wimbledon and the character models all seem to have a certain ‘blur’ about them, making its edges smoother and its overall colour palette softer than before. Known for its contrasting, exaggerated colours, the franchise refines this aspect and eases up on the saturation a little, resulting in a more elegant and polished look.
Additional animations have also been included, adding greater variety to the players’ actions including tripping over, spinning around and reaching out to return a zip-line serve only to stumble. More distinct styles of forehand and backhand strokes make appearances, including Nadal’s lasso forehand and Chakvetadze’s behemoth of a backhand swing. One noticeable animation that the developers did manage to take out was the diving mechanic, as you’ll discover later on, we’re pretty glad they’ve scrapped this Scotty 2 Hotty WWE-like maneuver.
Truth be told, rarely anyone picks up a Virtua Tennis game to listen to its soundtrack or the grunts the players produce. That’s silly. There are certainly some light techno beats sprinkled across the board, but you’ll hardly notice them due to the fact that they’re forgettable. They set up the scene for an arcade tennis match, but we’re not really sure if it’s supposed to do anything more than that.
As for the crowd-cheering effects, I’ve noticed the slight improvement. Apart from the usual generic claps before and after a point is played, the crowd will now react to longer rallies and comma-inducing winners. Nothing groundbreaking, considering what FIFA has done in terms of crowd-singing, crowd-boo’ing and crowd-dancing, but it does the job.
Where VT2009 truly shines is in its gameplay. While I personally prefer to slog out an epic 5-setter with a family member on a tennis simulator such as Top Spin 3 over a fast paced arcade match on Virtua Tennis 3, it seems that Sumo Digital’s latest offering has finally got around to balancing things a bit. On one end you’ve got the slow super-sim TS3, and on the other, a way-too-quick superhuman arcade tennis game in VT3. Fortunately, VT2009 gets the pacing right.
Shy of being way too quick and short of being realistic, the game feels a lot more like the bonafide classic in Top Spin 2. With the removal of the infamous dive, there’s a lot less (wait for it) diving, and a lot more rallies – always a good thing. Sparring now seems more intense as they’ve put a greater emphasis on shot positioning and readying-up before you strike. One misstep and you’re gone, similar to what you see on ESPN naturally.
As for the World Tour mode, to be honest, I personally am not really into the whole Career mode as many sports games deem mandatory. Though it adds to the longevity of the game, I prefer playing Exhibition matches with my friends and family either offline or on Xbox Live. In a sense, the Virtua Tennis games have always been about playing with your friends. While we appreciate the effort to slot more and more mini games such as Pirate Wars and Zoo Feeder in the mix to switch things up a little, we’re still not sure that the World Tour mode is worth the play through even for the most avid of tennis fans.
Virtua Tennis is quickly accessible and is easy to get into, maybe a little too easy. In fact, the difficulty in VT2009 needs to be re-assessed. I easily trounced Andy Murray in Very Hard mode 6-1 6-2, but given how much I get my hands on tennis games, those numbers may be a little skewed. Still, if Madden can provide an All-Madden mode, I don’t see why tennis games can’t include an extreme difficulty mode as well. Unfortunately for those who want a challenging tennis game, you’re better off calling up your friends before you play the full five sets with the AI to avoid double bagels in the score line.
Is Virtua Tennis 2009 virtually the same game as number 3? Not really, but they’re similar. Similar doesn’t equate to carbon copy though, and as you’ll soon discover in VT2009, the steps Sumo Digital have taken to improve the franchise have been immense. While you may not appreciate what the developers have done now, the path they’ve decided to take to create a more refined, cohesive and balanced Virtua Tennis will undeniably benefit the franchise in its later years.
It may not be the Roger Federer of its time with its occasionally sloppy mechanics. But in our eyes, VT2009 certainly qualifies as the more flamboyantly determined, albeit technically inferior Rafael Nadal of the tennis genre – it’s unconventional and we love it. Vamos!
From the slick menu to the new coat of paint, Virtua Tennis looks good all round despite its less-than-significant improvements.
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Though more-or-less the same as the third Virtua Tennis, it introduces a few new tricks that as a whole make the experience more refined.
A decent soundtrack and a host of 'woahs', grunts and claps. The game delivers adequately.
If you enjoy Career modes, you'll have your share of fun. If not, bring a couple of mates and setup an intense local competition. It never gets old.
Sumo Digital's latest isn't the revolutionary step in the franchise we were hoping for, but its refined looks and gameplay mechanics have deemed it fit for any loungeroom Federer.