The World Tour mode allows you to create your own player and watch them rise through the ranks of the SEGA Pro Tennis tour; completing mini-games and training challenges with Tim Henman along the way.
Virtua Tennis is as crass and boisterous as ever; with a range of new mini-games and online modes to make the experience feel fresh.
Initially, we felt a little bit let-down with Virtua Tennis 2009. It felt a bit like we'd played it all before. But it was strange because we couldn't stop playing it. Then we realised, Virtua Tennis had captured us yet again. The gameplay may not have changed much - save for a new camera angle, improved animations, etc - but there's no need for it to. Yet. There may come a time when Virtua Tennis doesn't hold our attention, but right now, there's absolutely no need for the game to grow up. Playing shots still feels fun and responsive, and the new over-the-shoulder camera angle brings you closer to the action. As a famous marketing campaign once said: "Once you pop, you just can't stop".
The thing that puts Virtua Tennis on a higher-tier than other sports games is its awareness. Virtua Tennis knows that at the very core, sports games are particularly repetitive. So in order to make the player constantly interested, it breaks up the action. Cue the World Tour, a mode where players can create their own character and build them up through the ranks of the SEGA Pro Tennis Tour. Here players will have to win a number of tournaments in order to progress to the top rank. Aware that the action may suffer from becoming repetitive, SEGA throw in some relief: a mini-game here, a training challenge there, some clothes shopping; whatever. Virtua Tennis 2009 puts you in control of yourWorld Tour, allowing you to plan out the weeks in your calendar - so if you can't stomach another tournament, you can go and feed some Zoo Animals instead!
Mini-games have always been a staple-mark of the Virtua Tennis series. Here, a selection of fan-favourites and new games return. Whether you are feeding zoo animals, sinking pirate ships, playing pool or avoiding an avalanche of gigantic tennis balls, each mini-game is as lovingly crafted as the last. With online scoreboards provided to multiply the challenge, we can imagine we'll be spending a lot longer with the mini-games in Virtua Tennis 2009. Particularly avalanche.
Virtua Tennis is a SEGA game. SEGA never ignore the fact that there are real colours that can be used in their game. Virtua Tennis 2009 is no exception, looking every inch the summer title its release date coincides with. The return of SEGA's famous soft rock does little for the ears, but improved animation - particularly that of the crowd - make the game a feast for the eyes. The character models do look scarily similar on the Amateur Tour, mind.
It's a weird thing to praise about a game, but the detailed use of stat-tracking in Virtua Tennis 2009 is really quite fascinating. Keeping track of every shot, every point and every step - Virtua Tennis 2009 can tell you how many KMs your player has run, aswell as how many slice shots have successfully notched a point. The way they're tied into trophies encourages different playing styles too.
Occasionally Virtua Tennis 2009 will just pause mid-game. The frame-rate on the whole is pretty good so we've no idea why the slowdown occurs. During our time with the game we'd say we experienced slowdown of some kind in 50% of the matches we played. It's not obtrusive, but still irritating.
At one point, Virtua Tennis 2009 loaded the wrong character model for our player. A simple restart corrected the problem - and it hasn't happened since - but, well, we don't know what that was all about. It was all a bit scary to be honest.
The amateur tour took us over 11 hours of play and way over 100 matches to complete. We understand the point SEGA are trying to make, it's tedious rising up the rankings of the tennis ladder but, c'mon! The amateur tour should be a warm-up.
Virtua Tennis 2009 uses music-loops to fill out its soundtrack during gameplay. That's fine. But do they really have to feel so uneasy when the loop comes around, and also, do they really have to be so darn annoying?
Virtua Tennis 2009 features a full online mode which we will cover in more detail as and when we've had a chance to spend more time with it.
Virtua Tennis 2009 may not move the series forward very far, but it's immediately apparent that the formula works just as well now as it ever did. With Wimbledon around the corner, this is the perfect summer smash.