When my good friend Pat first said to me, "You've gotta play this new tennis game" I thought he was kidding. I believe that very well may have been the first time in recorded history that someone said that sentence. But, after suspending my disbelief and actually playing the game, I realized he was exactly right. Virtua Tennis is an excellent experience from the first serve, be it single player, co-op, or in one of the skill-building mini-games.
I do not claim to be a tennis aficionado in any facet, so I cannot discuss whether or not the licensed players found in this game are masters of the sport, or just average players working the pro circuit. From playing this game, though, I do know they are well animated and control exactly as you would hope. The controls are very simplistic, with one button for the standard hit, one for a lob, and the D-pad for controlling your player. This control scheme is as simple as it gets, and makes the game easy for anyone to pick up and play without having to dedicate the time usually necessary to learn the controls for a sports title.
Visually, the game looks incredible. There are short cut-scenes between the scoring point and the next serve that either shows a slow-motion replay of the scoring shot, or a close-up of the players. These scenes do look a little dated by today's standards, but they are short and do not detract from the action. You also choose between outdoor and indoor courts and the look and feel of each is unique. The lights that flood the indoor arenas cast very convincing shadows on the ground, and the outdoor arenas include real-time weather patterns which actually depict clouds passing over the sun and appropriately shade the court. A very nice feature indeed!
The sound effects also add a deeper level of realism to each set. From the basic grunts and squeaks of sneakers on the court, to the difference between the ball hitting asphalt or clay, the different sounds really highlight the effort Sega put into this game.
For the actual play modes, you have the option of playing the arcade mode, exhibition modes, or a "world tour mode", which is essentially a franchise game that lets you build up your player's stats and purchase new courts and costumes. The other two modes can be played single or two-player, versus or cooperatively against the computer. The multi-player experience is done very well, and is one of the handful of games where multiple players do not clutter the screen or take away from the fun. As a final extra feature, when a VMU is inserted in a controller you can actually see the game in real-time and play by watching the game on the little VMU screen.
A lot of time was invested in the production of this game, and it really shows. And when you think about it, tennis really is a glorified version of Pong, so sporting fans and gamers alike should find something to like here.