The PlayStation Move tennis grand slam final between 2K Sports' Top Spin 4 and SEGA's Virtua Tennis 4 is a match-up between two totally different play styles: whereas 2K offered a simulation fully playable with Move, SEGA has stayed true to its series' arcade roots by limiting the motion control to exhibition matches and minigames. Which game lifts the gold trophy?
First, let's address the Move controls, which are only available in the dedicated Motion Play area of the game. Here you can play an exhibition match against a human or computer opponent, or take part in a handful of simplistic minigames — if you want to play in the World Tour, arcade, online or other game types, you'll need to pick up your DualShock 3; Move is a secondary option here, not the focus.
This will disappoint many who wanted to take on the world's best with a motion controller, particularly as the controls are easy to grasp and enjoy. Your racquet appears on-screen and responds to your motions 1:1 — unlike Virtua Tennis 4 on Kinect — with the camera switching between third and first-person as the ball goes away and towards your player respectively. The first person perspective doesn't make it any easier to time your shots or direct them, but if you play with Move there are no other camera options, so it's a matter of having to get used to it.
Top Spin 4 used a Navigation or DualShock to move your player and aim your shots, whereas VT4 just uses Move, leaving player movement into the PS3's hands. Aiming your shots is a matter of timing, using a Wii Sports-like system, rather than taking into account the rotation of the Move controller. After a few practice games you'll get the hang of different shots and aiming; it's just a shame you can't do anything meaningful with the controller afterwards. Top Spin 4 did a lot more with a lot less, and although we're not sure we'd want to take on a whole World Tour with Move it's still undeniably disappointing to see the enormous potential of a Move-enabled Virtua Tennis title diluted to a few minigames and exhibition matches.
With the traditional controller in hand the game delivers a quality experience: the revamped World Tour mode is essentially a tennis-themed board game, with your custom character rising through the ranks by completing tournaments, participating in minigames and attending charity functions. There's enough variety on the way to make this a fun stab at a career mode, although it's not quite as deep as its Top Spin equivalent: you can unlock new players, clothing and minigames, your control over the development of your player's skills is limited to improving fitness and building experience in specific areas. Once you've accrued enough points, you can choose a new play style — big serve, hard hitter, fast runner etc. — that feed into the game's biggest nod to its arcade origins: a super shot meter that fills as you perform appropriately to your play style, allowing you to unleash a powerful shot once full.
The super shot isn't the only inclusion that identifies this as a bona fide SEGA title. Blue skies are in abundance, and the minigames are as odd and addictive as ever: from making poker hands to leading chicks around the court, there's as much fun to be had chasing scores in the off-shoots as the main game, particularly with minigame Trophy support too.
It should also be noted that Virtua Tennis is a superb looking video game, with 1080p output and stereoscopic 3DTV support for owners of top notch sets. While it features sports game staples — slow motion replays and lively celebrations — it doesn't go as far as Top Spin in its pursuit of "TV-style presentation", with a refreshing spurning of statistics and generally uncluttered on court action. The watercolour introductory video may jar slightly with the game's metallic presentation style, and the plastic-looking beads of sweat on the players' faces are a little frightening, but the overall effect is superb.
It's a shame Virtua Tennis 4's Move controls are so underused: there's a glimmer of what could have been a great Move tennis game to rival Wii Sports, but it's denied in favour of a few simple minigames and one-off exhibitions. With control pad in hand the game fares far better, with excellent arcade-style gameplay and enjoyable minigames. While the wait for a great Move-controlled tennis game continues, those after a less energetic method of play will find plenty to enjoy in Virtua Tennis 4.