In my review of Virtua Tennis 4, I came very close to using the word ‘meh’. Thankfully, some sort of linguistic integrity struck me at that moment and I swerved clear, rescuing whatever iota of reputation I had in the process. I couldn’t possibly have such base language going onto the website where my writing is actually read by significant numbers of people. This, however, is my blog. So: Virtua Tennis 4 is more meh than anything meh that you have ever meh-ed at. Who cares if meh doesn’t work as a verb? I can say anything! Wheeeeeee!
As I stated in the review, the base mechanics behind VT are well proven and fun, as they should be for a series that’s made it to its tenth birthday, but over and above that there simply isn’t enough to make the game interesting. The world tour mode is fine when you’re playing matches, but there are too many repetitious training sessions and one-off exhibition games in between the tournaments. To slip into MMO terminology, levelling a player to the sort of ability needed to challenge the top seeds at the highest difficulty level can only be done through minigames that are interesting to start with, but increasingly more dull. It’s the essence of the ‘grind’; performing the same tasks over and over again to allow you access to the good stuff. How did this sneak into an arcade sports game?
The answer is in the question. VT was born in the arcade, where players get a few minutes of fun biffing the ball about before they get beaten and have to pay up for some more. The only elements were your choice of player and the tennis match itself. At the core of the series those features are the only constant, but that’s not enough for a home release. The other features, then, like the world tour and player creation, are bolted on additions, loosely tied to the heart of the game and so they take on the appearance of chores that must be completed to get to what VT is all about. Look at another sports game. It could be argued that at the heart of Pro Evo, all there is is the football match itself, but that neglects the teamsheet, substitutions, tactics and plenty of other features that are all part of the basic game before you start thinking about the Master League mode or a lengthy tournament.
Virtua Tennis, however, has so little depth in its core gameplay that after playing for ten minutes, you’ve seen everything, and other modes like the World Tour are so detached from the gameplay that instead of deepening the pool, they merely provide extra puddles to splash around in – and whilst that’s kind of fun, you quickly realise that your feet are soaked and you fancy going inside. It’s not something that makes VT4 bad enough to hate – to extend the already-stretched metaphor, you can quickly put on a nice dry pair of socks – but it doesn’t make it very appealing in the long run.