As the iPad has developed, we’ve seen some of the world’s biggest publishers bring their most popular titles to the App Store, none more significant than EA Sports and Sega. The success of ubiquitous games like Tiger Woods PGA Tour & Football Manager Handheld on iOS, has shown that sports gaming is a viable concept on the platform, despite the high level of detail and complexity it demands.
However, one sport that hasn’t translated well into the world of computer gaming is tennis. Sure, there have been decent games developed for the major consoles, but even they haven’t managed to showcase the many intricacies and fluid movement of the real game as has been achieved with the likes of football and golf. With that thought, I present to you Sega’s Virtua Tennis Challenge. Can the iPad succeed where others have failed? Let’s find out.
The Virtua Tennis brand has been around for nearly two decades and, in terms of design, nothing much has changed. The game’s interface still effuses a bright, retro feel akin to an old arcade video game. Accessing the app’s various features and game modes is done so via the opening screen where all options are listed in the game’s distinctive menu style.
Before jumping into a match I’d recommend completing the Training feature first. Not just to help hone your groundstrokes, but also because it is fun at the same time! By playing various shots from different positions on the court you can really get a feel for the gameplay and achieve higher marks for consistently bursting balloons with each shot. Though not as feature rich as its predecessors, the training mode is still a ton of fun to play — if not a touch repetitive — and it can help make you a better player.
After you’ve completed the training levels there are various ways to test your mettle on the court. You can play a friendly exhibition, capture the grand slams, improve your world ranking or attempt to play an online match; attempt being the key word. The only major flaw of this game lies with its multiplayer functionality as, from my experience, most games over Bluetooth lag to an unplayable extent, and finding a game online is a near impossible task.
Multiplayer mishaps aside, the real test of how this version of Virtua Tennis stands up lies with its controls. Tennis is a game of both brains and brawn, requiring quick thoughts, coordination, and power to best your opponent. With computer gaming however, the subtleties embedded in the fabric of the sport are often lost. Changes in pace, balance and positioning are understated in order to make games more playable rather than realistic.
Swipe To Your Heart’s Content
The controls provided by SEGA offer four very different ways to play the game, ranging from the traditional arcade style to an entirely gesture-based method. Changing to your preferred controls can be done via the Options page, along with your desired camera angle and sound effects. The two other control types are variations on the Pad style, one of which mimics an Xbox controller and the other a virtual pad layout.
Personally, I prefer the natural feel of swipe gesturing to hit shots as it provides a more realistic experience. Players react to swipes in a more natural manner, with particular regard to balance and positioning, than they do with the other controls. I also found that with the iPad’s touchscreen it is slightly more difficult to move a player while tapping button combinations at the same time. However, not everyone is the same and you may well have a better experience with traditional controls.
No matter what controls you decide upon, Virtua Tennis is going to blow you away with its incredible gameplay and graphics. Daring lobs and delicate drop shots are shown with incredible accuracy; your opponent must scramble to and from the baseline to return your shots, sometimes even incorporating a Boris Becker dive. Similar to the console versions of Virtua Tennis, once you’ve mastered the nuances of the game, matches can become a tad easy, even on the most difficult setting.
How Many Grand Slams Can You Capture?
A common complaint I have with many sports games is the inability to link the real-world versions to the fictional game. I’m talking about famous players, tournaments and sponsors that give an added sense of realism to a title. Of course, this isn’t necessarily the developers fault, and it doesn’t detract from the gameplay, but it is a nice added touch that seemingly only EA Sports has the ability to implement. Consequentially, you won’t find the ATP Tour, Roger Federer or Wimbledon featured in Virtua Tennis, but don’t let the absence of real-names put you off, the differences are minimal.
All four Grand Slam tournaments are playable — under easily identifiable guises — with the only entry requirement being that you have enough coins in the kitty. Earning coins is primarily done by winning tournaments and, as in real-life, sponsorships can be earned as a result of your success adding another boon to your coffers.
Game, Set & Match?
Ultimately, the goal is to become the highest ranked player in the world by winning as many grand slams as possible. That said, I found that matches can become slightly too easy — holding onto the top spot is another question entirely. Even if you reach the coveted No. 1 spot, the game isn’t over by any means; capturing all four grand slams in single season is the most difficult task, and one that will keep you playing long after your purchase.
Overall, Virtua Tennis is easily the best tennis game available on iOS and will provide you with countless hours of fun. Though not as polished and feature dense as a console title, the graphics and gameplay are of an extremely high standard for a fraction of the price. The multiplayer options are disappointing, especially as you can’t play friends online, but here’s to hoping for an update soon. The developers have managed to mimic the game’s legendary gameplay and interface thus ensuring any fans of the game will not be disappointed. Personally, I think it is one of the great iOS sports games, but check it out and decide for yourself.