Last month I re-gained the use of my Dreamcast after managing to get hold of the AV cable I’d lost. I even picked up two controllers for a quid each – this means Fur Fighters is a must buy now. Ever since my consoles reincarnation I’ve been playing Crazy Taxi and Chu Chu rocket endlessly. But the one game I’ve not been able to keep away from is Virtua Tennis. I’ve ‘virtually’ completed the game now so it seems appropriate to post a retro review.
Virtua Tennis made it’s debut in 1999 in the arcades. It was a decent game then but in 2000 it was ported to the Dreamcast – things got a whole better. There were added modes, players and various other things. At the time though that didn’t matter; the fact that Virtua Tennis could be played in peoples’ homes was smashing. (okay, no more puns I promise).
Once you’ve put the disc in you’ll notice that loading times are almost non-existant. As you enter the main menu Sega’s style is all over it. You’re greeted with “Virtua Tennis” spoken by that legendary corny american accent guy – what is his name?! Some more corny music soothes you in the background while you decide what you want to play. Arcade mode is what it says on the tin…an arcade mode. You simply pick a player and rally through five rounds each progressing in difficulty. And this is part of the beauty of Virtua Tennis. It’s simple. But I will get onto that in a bit.
You can also choose an exhibition match. This allows you to set the rules. You can play singles or double, against the AI or against human opponents. Four human player doubles is great fun. You can also decide the number of games and the difficulty setting. Again, no GCSE’s required here.
Then we come to the defining moment in Virtua Tennis. The icing on the cake. The piece de resistance…The World Circuit. The game is good already but this mode makes it great. It ensures you come back for more. World Circuit is basically a campaign/career mode. You select a player right from the start to use during the whole thing. A few stages around the world are opened up to get you started. Your aim is to climb up the ranks to number one in the world by completing these stages. For instance, the ‘Old English Championships’ (a.k.a Wimbledon) is available from the start along with some others. There are also some ‘training’ stages which are essentially mini-games that don’t really help with your skills but add something different. A combination of winning tournaments and completing the training stages will see existing stages level up in difficulty, until you complete them, while unlocking new stages, opponents and shops. Shops allow you to buy new gear, stadiums, tennis players as well as new strings and an energy drink. The last two items seem pointless and tacked on but it’s about the only negative with this game.
The learning curve and difficult is well shaped. As you progress and get better at the game so do the opponents which is nice as you’ll always have a challenge but at the same time knowing you can beat it.
The gameplay in Virtua Tennis is brilliant. It only utilises two buttons (normal hit and lob) on the controller as well as the analog stick but this works well. The game decides whether a smash is appropriate or not depending on the height. Anything more than that and you wouldn’t be able to concentrate on your shots. Besides, this style is more realistic. A real world tennis player does not need to think about how to hit a shot. He knows the basics and therefore he just concentrates on where he wants the shot to go. This is exactly how Virtua Tennis works. In this way it is very tactile. You must place your shots correctly in order to win. One wrong hit and you’ve no chance. This always keeps you on your toes especially against the stronger opponents.
The graphics and detail in the game were very impressive at the time and to be honest it’s still great now. Well animated players, animated crowd, active ballboys and officials (they all move their heads etc), detailed stadiums, great sound effects as well as the different courts affecting gameplay. Although, I did think the players looked unusually fat in this game.
Downsides with the game… hmmm, I honestly can’t think of any. If there are you’ll miss them since the game will have you hooked. If you have a Dreamcast then no doubt you already own this; if not then I advise you to go get one and buy Virtua Tennis while you’re at it.