Tennis games seem to fall broadly into two categories: those that are focused on realism, and those that are focused on flashy arcade gameplay.
The Virtua Tennis series has always been firmly of the arcade persuasion, but PS Vita launch title Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition seeks to find a middle way, appealing to sim-lovers and arcade gamers alike.
Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition has been on home consoles since spring 2011. On the Vita, the game is largely unchanged, save for some cool new features that take advantage of the Vita's unique abilities.
The graphics are largely indistinguishable from the PS3 version's, with a large selection of courts and players from around the world.
The single-player World Tour offers a great way to get into the game. Each season is played like a boardgame, spread out over one of four continents and culminating in a tournament.
Tickets, rather than dice, determine how far you can travel to a new location. Scattered along the path are various kinds of encounter, including charity events, training exercises, shopping opportunities, and exhibition matches.
The exhibition matches are particularly noteworthy if you're playing online. Your friends, people you've met through Near, and other Virtua Tennis players appear on the circuit.
If you land on the right square you'll get to play against one of their avatars. Using the Vita's camera you can even add your face to your own avatar.
As you advance through your career you level-up your stats, earning both money and stars. You use the money to buy new clothes for your avatar, including some pretty wacky gear that comes in handy at fancy dress matches.
Your star rating places you in the league table and determines, among other things, your seeding for tournaments.
Less of the racquet
Basic movement is intuitive. It's also fairly easy to pick up the different lobs, slices, and top spin shots, whether you use buttons or swipes of the touchscreen. However, placing your shots using the left stick, mastering the controls, and getting the ball exactly where you want it and at the right time takes quite a bit of practice.
On the World Tour, training is introduced in the form of mini-games. Although rather frivolous for the serious player, these offer a fun way to get to grips with the game mechanics. Running around collecting eggs, for example, helps with controlling movement across the court.
The training games all work rather well and gradually increase in difficulty as you advance past each level. The novelty wears off eventually, though, and having to play mini-games during your career can become a little frustrating.
There are a few other modes available outside the career path. Practice offers more insight into the controls, while Exhibition and Arcade offer a quick game. If you really like them, you can access the mini-games from the main menu too.
You can play online, but the options are pretty limited. Ranked matches throw you straight into an arcade game. If another suitable player isn't immediately available, you'll get to play against a computer opponent while you wait.
As with the World Tour, the money you earn is added to the same central pot, but rather than stars you gain points to improve your online ranking.
Player matches allow you to search for others online. Once you've found an opponent you can create a Clubhouse, just as you would playing ad-hoc, and from there you can play out your own private matches.
You cannot be serious
A VR camera app allows you to take pictures alongside your favourite tennis star. You can choose from any of the players in the game, set them in action, shrink them down to fit in your hand, or blow them up to life size.
Gyro Ship mode also takes advantage of the system's abilities with shooting range gameplay. Tilting the Vita tips a tall pirate ship, bringing high up targets within reach of your shots. It's little more than a distraction, but a rather nice one.
Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition is an enjoyable game, whether you have a strong interest in tennis or not, but it's not without limitations. For the tennis fans there's a selection of big names past and present, but it's a rather short list - especially on the women's side.
That's a fairly insignificant complaint, however. Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition otherwise produces a solid serve, with robust gameplay and a suite of modes that will appeal to casual and hardcore virtual tennis players alike.
If only the online multiplayer had been more fully featured, it may have served an ace.
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