Previews

Virtua Tennis 4: Serving an ace or missing the mark?

Would you smash it?

With no arcade version planned, Sega's long-awaited fourth instalment of the Virtua Tennis series is the first to be built, from the ground up, specifically for consoles.

Consequently the new career mode is the biggest and best thought-out one they've done so far. It's presented as a kind of board game, taking your player on a transcontinental railway tour of tennis.

Before each turn you get a handful of train tickets, each valid for a certain number of stops. You select the ticket you want to use, travel to the appropriate destination and play whatever tournament or training exercise you find there.

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The train tracks sometimes split off towards different places before converging for the major events, so it's impossible to see everything on a single play-through - a fine way of adding replay value, and far more interesting than the calendar of events seen in previous versions.

FIRST SERVICE
Unfortunately the control scheme is quite bizarre on Wii. Only the minigame and exhibition-based Motion Play mode offers the remote-swinging action you're probably used to in tennis games, and it seems to have been tacked on almost as an afterthought, tucked down towards the bottom of the main menu.

Everything else - including online play, serious tournaments and the career mode - forces you to use traditional controls. While that means the standard pad in the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, which is definitely more precise than using Move or the exhausting Kinect - Sega's definition of a traditional control method on Wii is the remote turned on its side.

So you've got a really solid tennis game with a great career mode and online competition, but you're obliged to play with the D-pad and two tiny buttons.

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Classic controllers, the GameCube pad and even the basic nunchuk - as Sega's rep somewhat sheepishly assured us during our play test - are not supported. What a mystifying decision.

We can draw a clumsy comparison with VT4's choice of former world number one Caroline Wozniacki1 as one of the game's star players.

They're both nice to look at, they've got all the tools, but there's something major missing - a Grand Slam title in one case, a few buttons and a thumbstick in the other.

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