Virtua Tennis 2009 ReviewBy Scott Alan Marriott - Posted Jun 24, 2009
Accessible, arcade-style tennis returns to Xbox 360 with Virtua Tennis 2009. Notable for its mix of real-life tennis pros and offbeat mini-games, the strength of Sega's Virtua Tennis series has been its pick-up-and-play controls. Yet while other sports franchises are adding significant features to entice new audiences, Virtua Tennis 2009 seems content to rehash the same, tired material. It is the weakest entry in a series that's beginning to show its age.
- Features 23 professional players
- Includes Davis Cup license
- Simple-to-grasp controls
- Few additions
- Tedious world tour mode
- Frequent loading times
- Ugly player models
Accessible, arcade-style tennis returns to Xbox 360 with Virtua Tennis 2009, the number one tennis series in the world, at least according to sales data. Notable for its mix of real-life tennis pros and offbeat mini-games, the strength of Sega's Virtua Tennis series has been its pick-up-and-play controls. You don't have to be a fan of the sport to excel at the game, which is a big part of its worldwide appeal. Yet while other sports franchises are adding significant features to entice new audiences, Virtua Tennis 2009 seems content in rehashing the same tired material. It is the weakest entry in a series that's beginning to show its age.
"You Cannot Be Serious!"
The disappointment begins with the presentation. Courts are sharp and have realistic looking surfaces, but that's the only positive from an aesthetic standpoint. The crowd, line judges, and ball boys move in unison like they're trying out for a music video. Animation is smooth in some places and stiff in others. The same canned clapping noise is played after every point, no matter where you're playing, and there's no commentary or television-style presentation leading up to the matches. Nearly all of the modes from Virtua Tennis 3 are available in this game, and while basic online play is generally smooth, there are still occasional hiccups. The most grating problem is that people can quit and not suffer any penalty.
The game's star attraction, the world tour mode, will be familiar to fans of previous versions, although there are more events to enter and clothing options to purchase. The create-a-player feature consistently generates a ghastly-looking humanoid who’s apparently part of the same gene pool as its rivals from different countries. All have the same plastic-looking face with slightly different eyes, eyebrows, and mannequin-quality hairstyles. Upon creating your tennis star, you begin at a lowly rank of 100 on the amateur tour. What follows is an arduous climb to the top to reach the professional level, not because you are facing challenging opponents, but rather because the whole process is painfully tedious.
Match after match after match, you'll find the computer to be a pushover on the default setting. You'll finish a two-game set in about two minutes. Since your alter ego starts out strong, you don't even need to think about building stats in the training academy or through the mini-games until you reach the upper tier in rankings. In fact, you rarely have to move from the baseline or vary your shots. Throughout your amateur career, the only time you'll lose a point is if you can't manage to stop snickering over playing in Phuket, Thailand. Hitting a ball out is nearly impossible, which means there's no penalty for lining up power shot after power shot. You'll end up staring at loading screens longer than the time it takes to win a singles and doubles event, and the loading times before and after each match are still present even if you install the game to the hard drive.
Even the mini-games are troubling. Despite developer Sumo Digital's experience with crafting some inventive tennis mini-games in Sega Superstars Tennis, the ones here are hit and miss. For every bright spot, there are a couple of real clunkers, bogged down by a combination of slight delays in controls and some truly evil time constraints. The "pirate wars" game, where a series of ships launch both tennis and cannon balls at your player, could have been entertaining if not for the cheap, rapid-fire volley the scurvy dogs like to use while you are stuck in the animation of returning the ball. What should be a test of agility becomes a test of luck, because you simply can't dodge everything that comes your way.
The controls are the same as in previous games, but that's not necessarily a complaint, since you don't have to memorize a complicated combination of moves. Top spins, lobs, and slices are all accomplished with the face buttons, as movement is initiated with either the left analog stick or directional pad. That's basically it. The emphasis is on proper positioning and timing, with powerful shots executed by anticipating the ball, holding down a button, and releasing it at the right time. Unfortunately, the controls are somewhat hampered by the frame rate, which is inconsistent. Sometimes it's fine, but other times there are hitches that interrupt the game's flow.
Virtua Tennis 2009 is a lazy update to Virtua Tennis 3 with no compelling reason to upgrade and several compelling reasons why those new to the series should avoid it entirely. There are some serious glitches that can occur during the world tour mode that can crash the game, prevent you from moving up in the rankings, and interfere with achievements. Since the game only saves to one file, you'll have to start from scratch if something bad happens, and it's a long, slow grind to recover what was lost. Virtua Tennis 2009 was released before it was ready, and the result is a substandard entry in a cherished series. Save your money and hope some lessons are learned.