Sega originally created the Virtua franchise as an attempt to make more realistic games through the use of 3D modeling, thus resulting in characters that seemed to move and act more like they would in real life. This led to a number of ‘Virtua’ series, including Virtua Fighter, Virtua Racing, Virtua Cop, Virtua Striker, Virtua On, and Virtua Tennis.
Of course, what was new and innovative in 1994 has not only become the norm, but also far surpassed on a technical level. And though Virtua Tennis was originally released to arcades five years later, that leaves one to wonder whether there is really anything in Virtua Tennis Challenge that cannot be found in any other modern tennis game.
The graphics in Virtua Tennis Challenge are crisp, clean, and realistic, but without dipping into the uncanny valley. The sound is also excellent; though the music is not terribly memorable or catchy, it manages to fill that sort of niche that one might expect from televised sports. Meanwhile, the actual sound effects of shoes squeaking on the court, the bounce of the ball, and the “thwok” sound it makes after being smacked by the tennis racquets sounds just like the real thing.
You’ll find all of the options you would expect in a basic, realistic tennis game. You have tournament, training, exhibition, and multiplayer modes, you can play on different types of court (clay, grass, and hard), and can adjust the difficulty to your liking. Unfortunately, if you’re new to this, then the easiest difficulty you’re going to find is “Normal,” which does not show a lot of mercy to those just picking the game up. The only other option that is lacking is the ability to turn off the replays, which run after every round. You can skip them by tapping the screen (sometimes repeatedly), but it would have been nice to do away with them altogether– we were there, we don’t need to see it again every single time.
For the most part, everything so far is decent, if not good. However, the controls are where things tend to fall apart. Technically speaking, there are four control schemes, though three are basically variations of the on-screen “virtual” joystick/ thumbpad/ buttons concept. We gave this style a shot, but it felt a bit clumsy, as the player would sometimes run where we didn’t want him to, or he wouldn’t swing when we would press a button.
Good game, brah.
The more preferable option for us were the touchscreen “swipe” controls, but even this was far from perfect. The ball typically does not go where you tell it to, more often following a vague suggestion of where you tried to send it, while at other times, it seems the player just runs off to another part of the court, rather than smacking at the ball as instructed. Then there is the process of serving the ball; while we’re on the right side of the court, it seems as though the ball is almost magnetically drawn to the fault line on the other side of the court, except in some instances where we’d just try a completely horizontal swipe. On the left side? No such problems.
We can’t fault the game entirely, though; sometimes things work, and they work well, providing a fun bit of back and forth. But at other times, it feels as though the controls just go rogue, and that can mess up everything. Still, those instances of the controls acting up are enough to keep this from being a world-class experience.
Overall, Virtua Tennis Challenge is all show, but with little go. In other words, it feels as though more time was put into getting the presentation down than perfecting the gameplay. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, leaving us to advocate caution on this one. For now, we’ll just have to hope that an update comes along which might fix things up.