With a wide selection of titles available, but very few sports games yet, SEGA is hoping that Virtua Tennis 4 will be the perfect portable sports experience every Vita owner will crave. It carries the same arcade style gameplay that the console versions are known for, but adds with it touch controls and a stronger attention towards on the go gaming, but that isn't necessarily a winning combination.
As far as modes are concerned, Virtua Tennis 4 is all that a fan could expect out of a Vita port and more. There's online play, arcade play, and a fully featured World Tour mode that allows the player to experience a full tennis season as they trot around the globe.
In between each major tournament in the four quadrant World Tour are little mini-games that serve as both a way to boost your player's attributes and experience something a little more unique than plain tennis. These range in variety from playing hot potato with a bomb to serving soccer balls through a goalkeeper and defenders, and are actually a little more fun than a short 5-minute tennis match.
The only real drawback to the World Tour mode is the Vita version's reliance on "move tickets" to get from one spot on the map to the next. Instead of simply being able to move dot to dot — each dot represents either a mini-game, a match, or some other unique area like stores or rest stops — the player can only move where their ticket number will allow them, sometimes 1 or 2 but usually 3 or 4 spaces.
Navigation does add an air of strategy to the World Tour experience, and keeps things feeling like an interesting board game, but it ultimately sends the player right past some of the usually exciting mini-games and sometimes even forces them to miss a tournament entirely if they're not paying attention. It's obvious that a lot of detail went into crafting the World Tour mode, but it almost feels like too much.
Make no mistake, though, Virtua Tennis 4 is still all about the core tennis experience (granted, of a more arcade variety) and it's actually pretty fun. The game looks and sounds relatively impressive for a handheld, and the amount of control offered by the dual joystick set up of the Vita is solid, but not perfect.
There were times when a ball most certainly went out of bounds visually, yet the game continued as if nothing had happened - or awarded a point. There's a certain bit of luck involved in the control of the ball, and occasionally it doesn't work in your favor - but mostly it does. However, that element of inconsistency cannot go overlooked and sours the really intense matches that can be had. A mistake should be made on the player's terms not the game's.
Attentive readers will notice that not much mention has been made of the Vita touch controls, and that's intentional. Virtua Tennis 4 does allow for swipe-based shots and serves, but the finicky nature and lack of precision leave a lot to be desired. Only the touch versus mode, which gives players an overhead view of the court and lets them simply tap where they want to hit (almost like pong) is worth noting - but even that is pretty simplistic. Trying it out was exciting at first, but it eventually becomes clear that joystick movements and button presses are the better option. It's there for those who want it, but not many will.
Virtua Tennis 4 for the Vita is exactly the type of handheld port that players tend to ignore, and unfortunately in this case it's for good reason. The game features a lot of the fluff from the console version, and doesn't do much to maximize the strengths of its newfound platform. As a passable distraction while traveling you could do worse, but with a pretty varied line-up of titles already available for the Vita it's hard to recommend this for anyone but Virtua Tennis fans.
Have you had a chance to check out Virtua Tennis 4 for the Vita? Do you agree that the controls and modes lack the punch to make this a must have handheld sports title?
Virtua Tennis 4 is out now for the PlayStation Vita.