Virtua Tennis: what happened to it?

Che fine hanno fatto… (What happened to them…) is a regular column that tries to bring to light those franchises that for one reason or another have fallen into oblivion, telling the story, with the hope of seeing them sooner or later on our screens.

When it comes to video games with a tennis theme is impossible not to mention what is probably to all intents and purposes one of the titles symbol of the genre and most loved and played ever, namely Virtua Tennis. The game of SEGA, which for many years has inflamed the arcades around the world and initially with the arrival of Dreamcast, even the homes of many fans thanks to the excellent conversions for this console that helped to increase the fame, has entered the legend, although the fame was not enough to keep alive the series to this day.

Tennis according to SEGA

Since its debut in 1999 on NAOMI-cabinets, Virtua Tennis (or Power Smash, as it is called in Japan) has always maintained an arcade game setting, with characters that performed any kind of hit simply through the use of two buttons and an eight-direction joystick. This peculiarity in terms of gameplay, easy to learn but difficult to master at best, made it in a short time a transversal game, suitable for all types of players, from children to those with more experience, becoming a trademark of the entire series. To make then even more beautiful and convincing the title there was a colorful and detailed graphics that until that moment was practically never seen.

Despite not having an extraordinary amount of options, Virtua Tennis in multiplayer was practically eternal, so much so that it can still be found in many arcades around the world. There was the Exhibition mode, where in a single match you could change all the options to your liking for single or double challenges, up to four players. The duration of the match was variable from a single game to a set, as well as the surface of the playing field and the skill of the opponents controlled by artificial intelligence, set in such a way as to always make different matches.

Virtua Tennis: che fine ha fatto?

More interesting was the World Circuit mode, a sort of “campaign” that saw the user participating in a series of matches and training exercises (also available in a separate session) to overcome in order to progress in the game and unlock increasingly difficult and crazy matches and tests. Once at the top of the leaderboard, the player could challenge the two strongest tennis players in the world (of the game), Master and King. It was a triumph, both for critics and public. So, given the resounding success of the game, SEGA did not think about it for a moment in designing and releasing in record time an official sequel.

Virtua Tennis 3 and the beginning of the decline

Virtua Tennis 2 for Dreamcast and SEGA NAOMI cards arrived in 2001, also because it was basically the same as its predecessor: apart from a few more courts and some graphics tweaks, the real novelties consisted in the addition of some female players (nine) and the option to play mixed doubles matches, while the general playability remained anchored to the styles of arcade sports titles. After ceasing the development of video game consoles in 2001, SEGA started making titles for all platforms. Virtua Tennis 2 was then released on PlayStation 2 and Game Boy Advance, and with the support of the British team Sumo Digital was made a sort of spin-off-expansion of the same title on PlayStation Portable in the fall of 2005, called Virtua Tennis: World Tour.

Virtua Tennis: che fine ha fatto?

To have a “real” new product in the series, we had to wait until 2006 and Virtua Tennis 3 for the cabinato, this time based on the SEGA Lindbergh arcade system. In 2007, the game also arrived on PlayStation 3 consoles, with integrated SIXAXIS controls and the PlayStation Move controller, and Xbox 360, with exclusive Xbox Live tournaments and online modes and Kinect support, plus native 1080p support for both versions, while in 2008 on Nintendo Wii, bringing to the homes of many fans all the fun of a title that, despite few innovations in general terms (compared to the arcade edition included the World Tour and Court Games modes instead of the “challenge” mode that was present in the arcade version), managed to entertain as always thanks to its playability and fluidity.

Virtua Tennis: che fine ha fatto?

But this aspect, however, did not seem to be enough to insiders, which in fact, while not rejecting it, attributed the ratings downward compared to those of the two previous chapters. However, the following year, with the support of Sumo Digital again, SEGA released a sort of updated version of Virtua Tennis 3 entitled Virtua Tennis 2009. The product included a World Tour mode and a fully integrated online ranking system, new options for creating a player and more than 40 different courts to perform on. The Nintendo Wii version also supported the Wii MotionPlus feature, used to enable more advanced gestures. The last installment in the series was Virtua Tennis 4, released first on PC, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation, and Xbox 360 in 2011, and later for SEGA RingEdge card cabins.

Virtua Tennis: che fine ha fatto?

Even in this case the title made few important steps forward for the series, remaining essentially anchored to its roots, and proposing the same gameplay with the only relevant addition of the special shot and the uncertain support for the motion controller. The new “career” in single player was good, a game in the game with a solid structure and the right potential to be replayed several times with different tennis players and choices. This was not enough, however, to satisfy the public and critics, who in fact gave it even lower ratings than the third episode, preferring the rival Top Spin 4. In fact, if we exclude Virtua Tennis Challenge developed and published by SEGA for mobile systems Android and iOS, Virtua Tennis 4 sanctioned the end (hopefully not final) of a saga that, with the appropriate adjustments and adaptations to the tastes of today’s players and taking advantage of the potential of new hardware, in our opinion would deserve at least a new chance.

Virtua Tennis: che fine ha fatto?