Considering Virtua Tennis was once the king of tennis games, its latest iteration is particularly disappointing, doing little to keep up with competition from 2K’s excellent Top Spin 4. The graphical tweaks are nice, and the new minigames are fun, but at its core, Virtua Tennis 4’s position-based shot mechanics are essentially identical to those in the 1999 arcade original. They’re easy to pick up, but they feel dated and unrefined by today’s standards, giving fans of the series a distinct feeling of deja vu and making you crave greater control over the ball. It’s not as if there’s fun content to play through either. The career mode is inherently flawed, the online options limited, and the Move implementation is terrible.
Most of your time in Virtua Tennis 4 is spent using the standard controls, which are very easy to pick up; so much so that there isn’t an in-depth tutorial to teach them to you. There are three main shot types to learn–top spin, lob, and slice–each of which is mapped to the face buttons while the left analog stick directs your shot. Performing more skillful moves, like drop shots and power shots, depends on your position on the court and around the ball. If you get close to the net, you’ll perform a volley. If you get right underneath a high ball as it drops, you’ll perform a power shot. Too far away from the ball when you hit a shot button? Then, your return will be weak. It’s an easy system to learn, but it lacks depth and is far too forgiving; if you make contact, the ball is all but guaranteed to land in play. This removes much of the excitement from the game, as well as any scope for advanced tactics, making it frustrating when you want to perform a risky drop shot from center court but can’t simply because of your position.
Each hit you land fills up a meter at the top of the screen. Once it’s full, you can unleash the only new addition to your shot repertoire: super shots. These vary depending on your chosen player, but all take the form of an exaggerated slow-motion hit where the camera pans out from its default view. They look impressive, but they ruin the flow of the game. They’re also not any more powerful than a standard power shot, so they’re not especially hard to return, making them a pretty yet pointless feature. Other tweaks to the core mechanics are subtler, including animation adjustments that reduce unnecessary dives by CPU opponents, and make swings of the racket look more realistic. Despite these improvements, there’s still a lack of realism in the way your player moves. This is most noticeable as your player moves across the court, appearing to glide across it without reacting to the surface. It simply doesn’t feel right, with your player lacking weight and moving too fast.