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Virtua Tennis 2009

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Sports
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: SEGA

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Xbox 360 Review - 'Virtua Tennis 2009'

by Glenn "Otter" Juskiewicz on June 23, 2009 @ 3:55 a.m. PDT

Virtua Tennis 2009 will again allow you to take on the world’s top tennis players in some of the most realistic courts to be found on gaming consoles. Take on the likes of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer or play as Maria Sharapova against Venus Williams to recreate some classic court battles.

Genre:  Sports
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sumo Digital
Release Date:   June 9, 2009

There are a few simulated sports game franchises that I really love, and for a variety of reasons.  The first reason is because I'm a lazy gamer who doesn't have the motivation to play the real version of said sport.  The second reason is to use a robust character creator to really make a virtual me in said sport.  Unfortunately, Virtua Tennis 2009 only covers the first of the two reasons.  You might even say it's 15-love on options.  See that?  That's a tennis joke.

There are really only two tennis game franchises to speak of: Virtua Tennis and Top Spin.  Given that, I plan on drawing a lot of comparisons between the two in this review.  It's not exactly comparing apples to apples, but it's about as close as it's going to get for tennis simulation games.

One of biggest changes to the Virtua Tennis franchise is in adding professional names to the title, like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova.  It's sort of an attempt to make the game less "arcade" and more "simulation."  For me, the addition of professionals really doesn't add much to the title.  Ordinarily, I wouldn't even care, but since the pros are featured on the cover of the game and it's being touted as a big selling point, I'd expect a lot more realism — both in graphics and gameplay — than what was delivered.

The other big new addition is that you can now make your own career player and take him or her online for matches.  Previously, you were limited to a very solo-centric game model with Quick Plays or World Tour modes, but Sumo Digital finally joined the late '90s by adding custom online multiplayer.  How quaint.

If you've played any of the previous Virtua Tennis titles, you'll find all the menus, controls and game options in exactly the same place as you expected; not much has changed.  For those who are new to the series, you can start the World Tour mode by joining either the men's or women's bracket, and then create your own virtual tennis player.

The avatar creator is dated and fairly ugly.  You start from selecting a handful of premade templates and then get face and body sliders to tweak your guy.  It's essentially one step up from the Wii's Mii creator.  By the time all was said and done, no matter what I did, my guy looked like he suffered from a combination of gigantism and progeria, and while I'm no expert on the subject, I'm pretty sure no one who suffered from either condition has made it onto the pro tennis circuit.  You do get to choose your general stance, serve and return stance, which, oddly enough, seems to give you more in the way of options than the whole of the facial editor.  It doesn't impact your game at all, but it does at least let you fine tune the "custom" aspect.

Once I saved my player and began the world tour, my genetic monster was offered a practice match.  I assumed this was the game's way of throwing you right into a tutorial mode, and since it's been years since I last played a Virtua Tennis title and I don't read the instructions, I figured it'd be a good way to launch into the game.  Nope, it was a real match.  There wasn't an on-screen tutorial, on-screen instructions, or over-enunciating Sega narrator explaining what to do.  So, sadly, I paused the game and broke out the instruction booklet; they could've included a 3x5 card and done the same job.  You have a power serve meter shown on-screen; you can lob shots, spin shots and slice shots; and the longer you hold a particular button before release, the more impact it gives you.  There is a certain finesse to placing your player in the proper location on the court and then directing your shot, whether forehand or backhand, to volley or slam your opponent.

Really though, Virtua Tennis is too easy, or perhaps I should say that it's unbalanced.  I played 30 matches in my first sitting in the game, and I won every single match 40-love. 

Every.  Single.  Match. 

That's just ridiculous.  Worse yet, in all those matches, I never even ranked up past the 90s (which is even worse, since you start at 100).  The one positive thing I can say is that each of the matches was at least visually different, thanks in part to all of the different world locations.  I played on clay courts and grass courts; I played during the day, and I played at dusk.  It's not much, but at least it's a change in scenery.

As far as the ease of matches goes, on one hand, it helps stroke the ego.  "Wow, I must be an awesome tennis player!" On the other hand, it makes the boredom rise real quickly.  The AI ends up being so predictable that you can win nearly every match by simply going cross-court against them or fake leading them and then shooting behind them.  I firmly believe the AI homes in on which direction you initially push the stick, and then heads in that direction in anticipation of the shot.  There were times when I would flick to the right and then set up an easy lob to the left, only to watch the computer truck in the wrong direction.  Sloppy.

I think it was sometime after the 20th consecutive tennis match that it dawned on me.  This game was designed to exist in an arcade cabinet for an alternate reality where people still go to arcades.  The menus, the scrolling, the simplified graphics and controls:  They all originate from and belong to a bygone era from a publisher that seems to almost want to refuse to acknowledge newfangled technology like "online ranked multiplayer co-op" and "realistic facial mapping."

The best part of the Virtua Tennis 2009 is in the mini-game modes, which is kind of sad when you think about it.  You see, in order to advance your "real" tennis career, you can play tennis skill simulations that have you returning shots against a Tetris-like backdrop, or you can sink billiard balls on a giant pool/tennis table.  Maybe that's what bugs me about this game.  On one hand, you've got real, professional tennis players on the box cover, and real-life pro and trainer Tim Henman is helping you to build your skills.  On the other hand, you're trying to sink a two ball in the side pocket with your tennis ball ricochets.  What?  Either go hardcore realistic (à la Top Spin), or just go super crazy cartoony fun (à la Ready 2 Rumble).  This kind of cross-reality game just ends up falling on its face because it doesn't meet either the real or the unreal.

Aside from the mediocre play, my next biggest complaint is in the music.  Again, it seems that Sumo and Sega went back about 20 years to grab the most generic synth music it could find, and they loop it ad nauseam throughout the game.  Remember playing Marvel vs. Capcom on your Sega Dreamcast, and how you heard the same song over and over again, with the same announcer's voice calling each fight?  I swear they reused it here.  Same voice guy, too.  I'm all for recycling, but just not in my games.
 
Don't get me wrong.  Virtua Tennis 2009 isn't bad, but it isn't stellar either.  If this were any other game with a fresh title and some modern advances, it might even be received better.  Since this is a continuation of a franchise, though, I expect some level of advancement to justify the constant and continual sequels.  This is like the Shrek 3 of tennis games:  It's OK and it's good for a quick chuckle, but in the scheme of things, it's nearly wholly unnecessary.

Score: 6.0/10

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