The Bottom Line: Maybe tennis ain't so bad after all.
Lets be honest here: Not a whole lot of us really care about tennis, do we? We dont even really know how the game is played, aside from using a raquet to whack a ball back and forth across a net. And the people who play it wear clothes which are too fruity even for the vast majority of the homosexual population. Cant forget the word love, which is substituted for the words zero or nothing in reference to the score. Tennis? Bah! Thats for fairies!
Well, here the Baron will now present four reasons why so many people love tennis anyway. Numbers one and two are ball smackin tennis sisters Serena and Venus Williams. Two of the most unbeatable players on the planet, and both natural beauties - very nice to look at. Number three is Anna Kournikova. Another nice bit of whackoff material, even though she stinks up Wimbledon like a spoiled piece of meat in a lunchbox. She was also married to hockey player Sergei Federov. Ick. Anyway. Number four is Virtua Tennis for the Sega Dreamcast.
Virtua Tennis is a Trojan horse. It sneaks its way into your living room in the clever guise of an arcade game. Then when you let your guard down, the sports simulation hidden inside leaps out and pounds some appreciation for tennis into you. Indeed, after going a few rounds, you may even feel inspired to pick up a raquet and hit the courts yourself. Not that this is a bad thing; I once read that its not unusual for people to lose five pounds during a regular tennis match. So Sega Sports scores points not just in the sim category again, but in the humanities category for developing one of the greatest weapons seen in Americas war on weight.
When the weather gets too cold for you to go outside and play tennis, youll be stuck indoors playing Virtua Tennis. Sega Sports provided a few different modes of gameplay to make sure the game doesnt get old too quickly. The first mode is a good, old-fashioned arcade showdown between you and the CPU. Through five stages, your guy goes through five tennis courts, whacking the balls of five different competitors. Pound the guy youre currently playing against, move on. Wash, lather, rinse, repeat. Five opponents later, the computer acknowledges you as the superior player and surrenders. Arcade mode is one of those play now modes designed to not take up too much of your precious real tennis-playing time. And should your buds drop by while youre in the middle of your game, its no biggie. Your pal can pull out a second controller, plug it in and jump right in anytime.
Exhibition mode is just one single match between you and whoever, and you get to toy with certain aspects of the game settings. If you havent got the time, you can tweak the number of games in the match to just one with a flick of the thumb. If youre incarcerated, a few more thumb flicks will pump up the match number to six - that is, the first player who wins six matches wins the set. If you think those annoying deuces are ridiculous, another couple of quick thumb movements will shut them right off. You then select a player, his clothes, his partner if youre playing a doubles match, where you want to play, and off you go to bean your opponents. Its another nice little gameplay-concentrated mode which doesnt ask for too much of your time, or even that you use a Dreamcast VMU to save your progress.
Arcade and exhibition are both fine modes, but if youre in it for the long haul, then World Circuit is the Big un! World Circuit is Virtua Tennis franchise mode. In World Circuit, you choose your champion and send him off to conquer the tennis world! On his way to the top, your champ will have to play singles matches, doubles matches, and lots of cool mini-games. Youll increase your skill by trying out new shots in matches and getting better at more difficult mini-games. All of the prestige will earn you amounts of cash so high youll need an oxygen mask! All this money will be used for going to the pro shops, where you will buy new outfits, get your raquet strings redone, contact doubles partners, and buy water to recharge your batteries. Youll quickly learn to love this innovative mode. The mini-games hold a certain kind of resemblance to the mini-camp mode found in Madden NFL 2003, and like the mini-camp, youll need to really hone your skills to advance. This grand mode, by the way, requires all of two VMU blocks, so you wont need to buy yet another VMU to complete it. Now if only the cheerleader cards had some kind of counterpart in Virtua Tennis, wed really be in business.
I use the word champion loosely in the last paragraph, however. While Im sure all eight pros in Virtua Tennis command a certain amount of respect in the tennis world, their names dont ring any bells for me. They all have one kind of skill emphasized above the rest, but none of them are named Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi. There are no female tennis players in Virtua Tennis, so you certainly wont be leading Steffi Graf or Jennifer Capriati to world prominence (as if they werent prominent enough...). Since all these mainstream names are out, and theres no create-a-player option for you to abuse, youll just have to choose the guy with the skill you want. Or the guy whose nationality you hate the least. Whatever works.
Not to make the modes sound like theyre the whole game, but modes do make up a certain chunk of sports games these days. For all of the details I mentioned above, there is an outstanding video game buried in here. Those who used to think tennis is nothing more than smacking a little yellow ball back and forth will either quickly learn to appreciate the strategy needed to play well, or theyll be promptly buried by the computer. Most people seem to forget that how hard you hit the ball depends on how fast the ball was going and how far away it was when you hit it. Little factors like these all come into play in Virtua Tennis, and if you dont take them into consideration, you WILL lose.
Despite all the strategy needed to play well, youll be shocked to learn just how easy the controls are. The L and R buttons change the position of your computer partner in doubles matches, but thats the only complication in controls which would make a 16-bit game look like Metal Gear Solid 2. You have the analog stick, a shot and a lob. Thats it. Hard and soft shots are determined by how far away from the ball you were when you hit it. If you dont like that, well, then its time to devise a better play strategy, isnt it? A shot is just a regular old swipe at the ball, and a lob makes the ball fly high. It takes heat off an intense exchange, but it also slows the ball, thus setting your opponent up for an easy point.
No matter how badly you get beat, youll have to admire the AI. The computer is quite brilliant, anticipating your next move and quickly figuring out a way to effectivly counter it. As you ramp up the skill level, youll see the computer doesnt beat you through a sudden burst of speed or strength, but with superior use of strategy. This makes higher skill levels challenging but not annoying, so youll always have to put on your best game face to win. Its one of the best AIs Ive ever played against, in any game, in any genre. It still has its flaws, though. It seems the computer doesnt have a way to counter opponents who run right up to the net. If you manage to stay in an exchange long enough to get right up to the net, you can administer a whipping from right there and almost guarantee walking away with the points. This is a small flaw, however, seeing as how it leaves so little reaction time. If the ball gets past you while youre up there, its your head. This flaw was supposedly corrected in the sequel, Tennis 2k2.
Grass and carpets are typically not thought to have any bounce, but dont forget tennis balls come flying in at speeds upwards of 100 mph. If something hits a foot-deep carpet at that speed, its gonna be up in the air again. Surfaces in Virtua Tennis are like weather conditions in football games: The balls reaction to it will vary depending on the type. Virtua Tennis gives four different types of surfaces to play tennis on. Grass, hard, clay, and carpet surfaces will be crushed underfoot, and the ball reacts differently to all of them.
Virtua Tennis may have the best player models seen on the Dreamcast. They move with the DCs typical fluidity, and the polys are cranked into overdrive. But clothes and hair are portrayed in shocking still life. Which pretty much covers everything important in the graphics. Tennis courts look like real tennis courts - theyre flat. And since no one really cares about audience models, I wont even get into the way they are. But the simple graphics are a good thing, given the nonexistance of slowdown.
Same with the sounds. The music isnt very memorable, but it doesnt intrude, so thats okay. The sounds, though, are as real as they come. The background announcer sounds fantastic, and the ball sounds like a real tennis ball. Occaisionally, youll hear a player grunt.
The controls respond just as well as your own real life tennis raquet. And theyre so simple, you wont even have to think about them, which gives you think space to devise winning strategums. The players are physics based, which means they dont just stop running in one direction to run in the other; they turn around. This has never caused a problem, though.
With Virtua Tennis, Sega Sports claims another trophy from rival EA Sports. It has basketball, tennis, and from whatI hear, hockey and baseball. Now if they could launch a football game superior to the Madden series, theyd have the sports market dominance theyre gunning for.
Now playing on Center Court -- Virtua Tennis for Dreamcast! This game continues the legend of Sega Sports Arcade titles and is sure to keep the most dedicated tennis fan riveted to the net. A perfect translation of the smash arcade hit, the Dreamcast version serves up the same grand slamming gameplay and rich 3D graphics. Crisp animations and realistic sound effects add to the game's immersive power. Spectators, ball boys, chair umps, everyone gets into your game and reacts to the scores. Play on realistic courts with surfaces such as clay or grass, and adjust your game as the ball and players respond differently on each. Four-player mode lets you get a fierce game of Doubles going. Eight of the top-ranked players in the world are included in the game, choose one, and volley your way to the Championship.