|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
The first ever video game was a simplified version of tennis. It was so popular, that nowadays it's hard to think of video game tennis as anything more than glorified Pong.
Yet Sega's Virtua Tennis for the Sega Dreamcast is so well done, you'll be too busy having fun to think about how truly simple it is.
Sixteen tennis greats are available as playable characters, but if you're looking for Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, or any female athlete, you're out of luck.
Whether or not you recognize the players, or even know the rules of tennis, is irrelevant. Virtua Tennis' strength is in its simple gameplay, allowing anyone to pick up and play. The action is fast, with power smashes and lunging dives making or breaking the game.
All this movement is easy to control. There are two buttons, shot and lob, with movement performed on the analog stick or digital pad. Shots can be aimed by combining a button press with a directional.
The game's simple nature may've led to not only addictiveness, but also a short lifespan, were it not for the multiple ways Virtua Tennis can be enjoyed.
Like most games, Virtua Tennis is more fun with friends. Two to four people can compete or cooperate in singles and doubles matches. Coordinating team strategies is much more fun with humans than with computer players, who often make stupid mistakes. (Humans make stupid mistakes too, but you can't threaten artificial intelligence with bodily harm.) Of course, the four players will need to be gathered around one console, as Virtua Tennis does not support Internet play.
A tiered, arcade-style mode is available, as well as Exhibition and one-player World Circuit modes. World Circuit is akin to the Street Fighter mode of the same name. Players travel around the globe, competing in competitions of varying difficulties at their leisure. Money earned from competitions can be spent to buy access to extra players and courts, contract partners for double matches, or expand your wardrobe.
The Circuit's training sessions are practically a game by themselves. These mini-games challenge players to hit bowling pins, bulls-eyes, balls, boxes, and boards using a variety of techniques. As fun (and frustrating) as these games are, they serve a practical purpose in teaching the player how to hit the ball to specific spots on the court. Those techniques carry over into the real game, and if you can intentionally aim a ball where your opponent can't reach it, then you're that much closer to victory.
The game's presentation ranks above average. In-game graphics are simple yet detailed; you can see people's heads moving to follow the ball, or the court darken as a cloud passes overhead. Blurred action replays and victory close-ups reveal excellent character animations, though the hair looks a bit pasted on. The ball sometimes disappears against the color of the court. An over-the-shoulder perspective is available, but the overhead camera gives a better view of the game.
The music is a typical but good rock style. An announcer keeps track of the score, and in a language appropriate to the arena; for example, you'll hear French coming over the speakers if you're playing in France.
Virtua Tennis makes one of the most innovative uses of the VMU's LCD screen yet: the entire match is displayed on-screen in real time. I've been able to play — and win! — a match without turning on the TV. Scores and other statistics are displayed between serves and matches.
Who would've imagined a tennis game would be one of the best multiplayer games this summer, if not this year? Virtua Tennis is a smash hit and is yet another perfect serving in the Sega Sports series.
This article is copyright (c) 2000, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 24-Jul-00