Virtua Tennis 2009 Review (Xbox 360)
I played Virtua Tennis for the first time nine years ago, and I ended up falling in love with it. I would play it in various arcade rooms, spending all the change I had to serve or keep getting served. My addiction only grew when the first console version was released on the Dreamcast. Now, almost a decade later, does Virtua Tennis 2009 still deliver an ace, or is the game marred by unforced errors?
The answer lies somewhere in the middle, but Federer, Nadal or Roddick level this game is not.
On the Court
In the past, easy-to-play mechanics have been key for this franchise, but Virtua Tennis 2009 (VT 2009) suffers because of the game’s lack of depth and overall inaccuracies. For starters, the game is far too easy. Before you know it, you are hitting topspin cross-court shots past your opponents. In addition, the game still only gives you three main shot types to choose from: the slice, lob and the aforementioned topspin. While these controls are simple, they also lead to a shallow gameplay experience; there is no sense of accomplishment after a sweet drop shot.
The serving mechanics are also unchanged. You hit the slice or topspin button to fill up the meter, then hit the button again right at the top of the meter for max speed, which more times than not results in an ace. Thankfully most of the acrobatic diving shots that would unrealistically keep rallies alive in previous versions of the series are gone, but it’s still almost impossible to hit the net or stroke it out of bounds. These little things all add up to a gameplay experience that’s fun at first, but gets old faster than Andy Roddick’s serve.
My main gripe with VT 2009’s gameplay is the player movement. Way too many times the player you’re controlling runs around in circles when attempting to return a shot. When caught in a bad position and left scrambling in real world, only a few tennis players have the proper amount of composure and hustle to successfully return a shot. But in this game, such returns happen frequently during a match.
The variety of things you can do in the World Tour mode is a bright spot for the franchise. However, the mode gets repetitive once you have done everything.
You start the World Tour mode by creating your own pro, and then you tweak things like the player's physical appearance, stance and stroke forms.
Then comes practice matches, tennis lessons at the hands of British great Tim Henman and amateur tournaments. Your player gets to work on different strokes, footwork and serving skills with Henman, and although it’s not as engaging as other practice modes, it does add to the variety. The goodness continues with the mini-games that help improve your player’s skills -- at the expense of stamina. These mini-games are by far the most entertaining aspect of the World Tour mode and perhaps the whole game. From feeding animals to destroying pirate ships, these unorthodox and silly training methods help improve your player’s stroke power, foot speed and shot accuracy.
Things begin to tale off into the repetitive realm when you start tournament play. At the beginning, the tournaments are extremely easy. But the real problem is that the tourneys get extremely tedious, because you have to play through a ton of them to rank up.
Luckily enough for World Tour players, you can take your created player online and square off against others around the globe in ranked matches.
Sadly, online play is plagued by heavy amounts of lag. Everything may seem all right on your side of the court, that is until you see your opponent return a ball that appeared to be past him down your baseline. In some cases, the ball is still in play even after appearing to have bounced twice. These nuisances create very frustrating and never-ending rallies. Even when you think you’ve won a point with a deadly smash, the ball hangs in the air for a split second, which allows your opponent to stay alive. Ranked matches for singles and doubles are pretty much all there is to do online; there is no option to start a user-created or round-robin tournament.
Besides the amateur tourneys in the World Tour mode, the artificial intelligence (AI) plays as realistically as you would expect in an arcade-style game. CPU-controlled players do a good job reacting instinctively and covering the open space, and they make reasonable adjustments to your style of play if you get too predictable. But there is one problem that persists with CPU players on the easier levels: They tend to stand and stretch to hit a return in their vicinity, rather than getting in better position before firing a return –- this makes for an unbalanced gaming experience that places emphasis on power rather than placement.
Graphics and Presentation
There are enough crisp-looking courts to impress a first-timer, but gamers that are familiar with this series will be disappointed by the lack of progress made in the presentation department. The menus and the soundtrack are as generic as they are unimpressive, and the player models make you question why a current-gen version was ever made in the first place. From afar the players resemble their real-life counterparts, but when the camera gets closer, the player models literally pale in comparison. Even in 1080p, the player textures are underwhelming, and hotshot Maria Sharapova looks more like a zombie than a camera model.
VT 2009 also still lacks commentators. So instead of listening to commentary, dreadful music plays throughout a match.
Virtua Tennis 2009 does have some good things going for it. The basic mechanics are solid, and the game's controls will not intimidate any gamer. But the repetitive gameplay, along with the lack of depth and visual improvements, make this look like a very outdated tennis title. The franchise needs an overhaul if it wants to regain the number one spot on the tennis rankings.
On the Court: Easy to understand, but not enough variety to keep gamers engaged for long. A lack of shot selection keeps the gameplay experience very limited.
Graphics: The courts look good, but the character models are ghastly.
Presentation: The menu music is generic, and the sounds in the game are made for the arcade room. There are also still no in-game announcers.
Entertainment Value: Within the World Tour mode, mini-games, training sessions and online ranked matches add variety to your created player’s rise to the top. But tedious tournaments make this mode feel stale fast.
Learning Curve: The controls are simple. The AI is a bit slow to react on the easier difficulties, but realistic placement and the AI's instinctual reactions are a rare bright spot for this title.
Online: The online portion of the game makes the World Tour more fun to play, but there are not enough online options overall. Either way, the lag ultimately diminishes any fun you may get out of the online mode.
Score: 6 (OK)