Review: Virtua Tennis: World Tour

Virtua Tennis: World TourPlatform: PSP
Publisher: Sega
Developer: SUMO Digital
Release Date: 10/6/05
Genre: Sports – Tennis
Players: 1-4

Though the Dreamcast itself didn’t survive long once the PS2’s dominance took hold, there were a ton of top-notch games for the system that still rank high in the hearts and minds of hardcore gamers everywhere. Among them all, Sega’s Virtua Tennis and subsequent sequel, Sega Sports Tennis 2K2, which eventually ported to the PS2 simply as Sega Sports Tennis, come to mind as personal favorites that will forever go down as all-time classics, and I know I’m only one of a massive fan following the Virtua Tennis series has garnered over the years. Oddly, it has been a good few years since Sega took to the courts with its beloved brand of arcade tennis, which made it all the more exciting and gratifying when they announced at long last the series was making its anticipated return, in portable form no less in Virtua Tennis: World Tour for the PSP.

Ever since the Virtua Tennis franchise was born, it’s number one goal has been to provide an accessible arcade tennis experience that anyone can jump in and out of no matter what their interest in the sport or how skilled a gamer they are, and in moving to the portable PSP format Virtua Tennis: World Tour once again serves an ace right down the middle. If you’ve played any of the previous iterations, World Tour should feel no different because, well…. it is no different. That’s right my fellow Virtua Tennis fans, the game plays exactly the same as it always has without a single sacrifice or drop off in quality in the downsize to the PSP. As always, gameplay forgoes being a hardcore simulation of the sport and instead hooks you with fast-paced and ultra-addictive arcade tennis. Subtle notes of realism are included in that players move with a realistic momentum and the ball physics are dead on. In playing the game you’ve also got all the shots in the tennis guidebook, including lobs, volleys, slices, topspin shots and serves, and mastering their uses is essential if you plan on tackling the upper-tier of difficulty settings — trust me, playing this game on the Very Hard difficulty is one of the most challenging gaming experiences you can find.

That said though, World Tour shines in its ability to be accessible to the masses with ranging difficulty settings that skew opponent AI accordingly. There isn’t a gamer in existence that shouldn’t be able to pick this game up cold handed and not be able to enjoy themselves immediately, yet even the most hardcore gamer will have trouble should they ratchet up the challenge. The main reason behind all of this is a flawless control scheme that is as precise as it is simple and elegant. Whether you decide to use the PSP’s analog nub or go with the traditional d-pad, the game handles like a charm.

Backing up the stellar gameplay is a massive selection of gameplay modes that will have you glued to your PSP until your eyes fall out and your hands become numb. Quickmatch, Exhibition and Tournament modes all provide instant access to hopping into a match, or series of matches, to quickly become acclimated with what shots do what and the overall flow of the game. Additionally, the game includes a whopping playable roster of 14 (18 in total counting a few other no-names and unlockables) top tennis stars from around the world including Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Tim Henman, Venus Williams, Lindsay Davenport and the oft-lusted Maria Sharapova. Surprisingly, Venus’ sister Serena doesn’t make an appearance.

Once you’re up to speed and feel your ready to take on the big boys, the titular World Tour mode is definitely where you’ll be spending the most of your gameplay hours. In the World Tour mode you are tasked with creating one male and one female character and taking them from the bottom depths of the tennis rankings all the way up to the top player in the world. Setup no differently than what was originally seen in Sega Sports Tennis back on the consoles, the World Tour has you building your tennis stars on a week-by-week basis over a full calendar year by competing in worldwide tournaments and training in all sorts of addictive mini-game challenges that dictate how your players’ skills develop in categories such as serve, volley, footwork and stroke. By winning tournaments not only does your ranking rise, but you also earn piles of cash that can be put towards purchasing new rackets, apparel, accessories, courts and even hired doubles partners. There is quite a bit of RPG-style depth here and the fully completing the mode and training your players’ skills to the max definitely requires is a long-term commitment, and with the simple in-and-out style of the game you can put down and pick up your career whenever and wherever you are.

Really the only aspect of the World Tour mode that left me feeling a little under whelmed was the character creation mode, there just aren’t that many options. The usual selection of physical traits and starting equipment are here to modify, but there are so few options in each customization section that you’ll quickly wish there was more to it. Just getting through the creation process can be a hassle as well due to a slow-loading menu system that can take a while to sift through. In general, load times are a nuisance in moving around the World Tour hub menu to. Simply moving around to the different events, mini-games, shops and home area requires a noticeable pause in between each step. Actually loading screens when getting in and out of matches isn’t so bad, thankfully, but just getting through the game’s menus and such can be bothersome.

On top of the other single-player modes, Virtua Tennis: World Tour also serves up a brand new Ball Games mode that features four addictive new mini-games to further suck your life away. Ball Games include Blockbuster, a Tetris-inspired game where you hit balls into colored blocks; Fruit Dash, a footwork challenge where you collect fruit on the court while dodging incoming red tennis balls; Blocker, a reverse of Blockbuster where you must defend colored blocks by volleying incoming balls away; and Balloon Smash, a stroke drill in which you hit at colored balloons for points. Something I didn’t quite understand was why the World Tour mode’s mini-games weren’t offered on the side here, it would’ve been nice to have those available as standalone options as well, especially games like Pin Crasher and Prize Sniper.

For those in need of multiplayer tennis action, World Tour has you covered there as well. Ad Hoc wireless play is supported for up to four players, featuring the ability to play cooperatively or head-to-head with other players in quick matches, exhibitions and tournaments. While these options are all fine and dandy, I wish the mini-games were available in multiplayer. A rousing head-to-head match-up in Blockbuster or Balloon Smash would’ve been wonderful. Also, with many games finally beginning to use the PSP’s true online infrastructure functionality it is a hair disappointing not to see online play supported here.

On the presentation side of things, Virtua Tennis: World Tour is a smashing success on all fronts. Graphically, the player models are incredibly lifelike recreations of the real people, consisting of accurate facial modeling and smooth and realistic animations that capture certain elements of each player’s play styles fairly well. Each of the game’s 28 court venues is also wonderfully crafted with crowds that actually aren’t that bad to look at, well designed line judges and ball boys/girls and realistic court surfaces (clay, carpet, hard and grass) that accurately dictate the ball’s physics just like in real life. Even small details are captured to perfection, such as shadows passing over the court and ball and feet marks being left behind on the court’s surface. As far as audio is concerned, World Tour once again shines. The old background music of upbeat techno-like tracks returns from the previous Virtua Tennis games and definitely shows its age, however the on-court sneaker squeaks and ball impacts, and the exceptional crowd ambiance all but drowned out the music anyways.

Whether you are a tennis fan or not, Virtua Tennis: World Tour, like each game in the series before it, is one of the most addictive and fun-going games you’ll ever play, and the simple elegance to the gameplay couldn’t have fit any better on the PSP. The game looks fantastic, sounds great, delivers a ton of game modes and near unlimited lasting appeal and, best of all, plays like an absolute dream. A few missing ingredients are all that hold the game back from utter domination of every other PSP game to date, but with or without them you still won’t find many portable games as superb as Virtua Tennis: World Tour.

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!