Tennis Games on the PC are generally treated with the same disdain as films on Channel Five, but occasionally a nugget of competence comes along that bucks the trend. Virtua Tennis was one such exception, and went down a storm here at PC, prompting frenetic two-player action for almost half an hour, once we'd managed to get the controllers to work.
That was more than enough to impress us though, and the game promptly walked off with the coveted Sports Game Supertest award, as voted for by an esteemed panel of experts (ie me and a couple of other slugabeds). It was largely deserved, and it remains a supremely playable game, having now made the smooth transition from arcade to Dreamcast to PC to bargain bucket.
Hinging around a simplistic yet intuitive control system, it's easy to pick up, with concerted play revealing further subtleties. There are a host of options and mini-games, and even if you don't like tennis (and who does?) it's top stuff, particularly if you can rope in a human opponent. But first make sure that you have two joypads with leads long enough to prevent unnecessary bodily contact. We're not animals.
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I've said this several times in the last year (thanks to the 2« games), but here it goes anyway--this is the most incredible-looking sports game I've ever seen. Sega has managed to power pack the characters with polys while keeping them fluid as a waterfall and as lifelike as you or I. But the truly beautiful thing about Virtua Tennis (besides the graphics) is the learning curve. Anyone can pick up a controller and perform moves Pete Sampras would be proud of. The intuitive control and character reaction time are right on target. Beginners just move toward the ball and hit the button, but it's much harder to exploit the techniques needed to really jam. For example, the strength of a shot depends on how hard you charge the ball (the direction you're coming from also factors in). Aiming, ball-spin, and tapping the potential of each pro takes time. You'll even find some nifty mini-games to prepare you for the harder tournaments. One has you beating back giant beachballs with your returns while another involves a bevy of bombarding serving machines. My only knock on the game is its replay value. I know Virtua Tennis is essentially an arcade game but I can't see staying with it for even a tenth of the time I've devoted to NBA or NFL2K. It's one of those games you'll pull out to impress your friends but probably won't keep playing after they leave. In my opinion it's tailor-made for non or casual sports fans.
With an emphasis on easy gameplay and an arcadey feel, I wondered how Virtua Tennis would compare with its sim cousins of the vaunted "2K" series. Well, for all the sim features that may not be present, the foundation of the game succeeds in fast, fun and varied action. Each mode, singles vs. the CPU, singles vs. a friend, doubles et al, adds a new layer of fun and depth. Throw in the World Circuit mode, which requires the player to progress through a series of challenging mini-games, and you have a game which offers high replay value. Sure, the players could have had signature shots, and there could be more options, but it's still a winner.
Wow. I'm not usually the sort of person that is hankering to play a tennis game--I haven't thoroughly enjoyed one since the SNES's Super Tennis. But, lo' and behold, it appears there is another. Virtua Tennis has the elusive magic (like Hot Shots Golf) that draws everyone in--hardcore sports fans and casual gamers alike. As I was playing the game in my cube, fellow editors seemed just as entranced watching the action as I did playing the game. This is more than a hopelessly addictive tennis game, my friends, it is a tennis experience. I haven't yelled at a game, rejoiced at a game, and cried with a game the way I did in VT's matches. Buy it. Buy it now.