Given the fact that Virtua Tennis 2009 marks just the fourth entry in the franchise in around a decade, there was a real hope that – just because Sega had snuck a year name into the title – it was going to resist something akin to the annual update gravy train.
And while it’s been well over a year since we saw Virtua Tennis 3, the simple fact is that Sega is facing a similar problem to the one it faced then. Namely, it got Virtua Tennis just right first time out.
This reviewer distinctly remembers fighting his way through the original game on the Sega Dreamcast and in the arcades, even toppling the mighty King in the final showdown. Virtua Tennis 2 then tried to overcomplicate things a little, while Virtua Tennis 3 sorted some of that out and added some fresh and interesting minigames. Virtua Tennis 2009? Well it’s kind of difficult to see where it fits in and, crucially, just what it adds.
There are certainly some improvements. Graphically it looks terrific, albeit at the expense of a little sluggishness around the menus. There’s also the addition of a few fresh and interesting minigames, and when you get to the big names to play, Virtua Tennis is as challenging and fun to play as always. Throw in a revised and improved online collection of options, too, and there are certainly reasons to be thankful.
And yet it’s the quasi-proverbial two steps forward, two steps back. The fundamentals, the essence of the game, are still the same as they were a decade ago. There’s been no killer feature, no new shot combo or anything since then, simply because the game didn’t need one. And now, through the revised world tour, it simply takes ages to get to the areas that’ll give you any kind of single player workout.
At least in earlier Virtua Tennis games you were able to brush through the lower order of the rankings fairly briskly to get to something that’d legitimately push you, in much the same way that Chris Tarrant might guff through the first few questions on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire at speed, simply because nobody cares.
For some bizarre reason, though, Virtua Tennis 2009 chooses to bog you down in agonisingly simple amateur tournaments that just jump you a few ranking points at a time. It gets really quite repetitive and boring, and will test the patience of many to see if they can get to the bit where the game clicks into life.
For when you are finally allowed to play the pro players, and when you get to the far more challenging higher levels of the minigames (and it’s the classic rather than new minigames that you’ll enjoy the most), even though it may feel that it’s taken an age to get there, you’re quickly reminded why Virtua Tennis is so revered. It feels natural to play, it’s challenging and it’s easily the most entertaining game of its genre. The problem? Just as Konami found with Track & Field back in the 1980s, it was all those things back at the beginning.
And try as you might, when you’ve hit the nail on the head with game one, all that’s left to mess with is the trimming. That’s just what’s happened here. What’s more, on the evidence of the fine but ultimately unnecessary Virtua Tennis 2009, we fear the same thing happening again in twelve months’ time.