Virtua Tennis Challenge
Sega's arcade sports series hits iOS. Does it ace the competition, or sail out of bounds?
There's a conspicuous lack of star power in Sega's Virtua Tennis Challenge for iPhone and iPad that's even more noticeable this week, as superstars Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic currently hold serve at the 2012 French Open. Instead, you'll have to make do with fictional players with names like Fernando Sanchez, Qi Ming and Bojan Jovanovic. As for realism, you'll find that it's almost impossible to hit the ball out of bounds, while the dramatic Super Shot walks a line between Nintendo's Mario Tennis and 2K Sports' Top Spin.
On the flip side, we don't blame Sega for sticking to the series' arcade roots. We can't recreate the marathon Australian Open final between Djokovic and Nadal, but this title plays a mean game of singles and doubles tennis, one that constantly drops you into heated and lengthy matches against the artificial intelligence, depending on the selected difficulty. Here, volleys last upwards of a minute or more, as both competitors look for that slightest hint of weakness in the opposition, working the angles to deliver a powerful overhead smash or skillfully-placed drop shot.
It also helps that Sega included four ways to play the game, as the default touch method comes with a steep learning curve and simply fails to provide a satisfying level of control necessary to make 120 mph serves and cross-court saves. More often than not, you'll drag a finger across the screen for too long and watch as the ball sails right past the player as HE (emphasis on the word, as there are no women in Virtual Tennis Challenge) runs towards the chair umpire.
That said, we strongly suggest experimenting with the Virtual Pad, Arcade and Game Pad control schemes, which are subtle variations of each other. Here, you have access to virtual buttons, giving you visible commands to lob, slice and add top spin to the ball. You'll just need to get used to the virtual sticks, which could've been a tad more responsive.
As for the aforementioned Super Shot, the great thing about it is the simple fact that opponents can almost always counter the move, and there's really not much to it; you merely hit the ball harder than usual. With this in mind, you really need to think about how and when you should use the Super Shot, which adds a cool strategic element to the game.
The only thing that bugs us, and this is huge, is the stuttering frame rate. The action tends to get choppy at the worst possible moments, where the last thing we need is inconsistent animation when running all over the place. It tends to disappear when going from TV to Dynamic view (behind the back, very cool), but regardless, Sega needs to fix this ASAP.
Now in regard to modes, don't go into this game expecting much. Training offers a small sampling of the mini-games from previous entries, but doesn't feature the same over the top shenanigans we're used to. Exhibition is here, and there's the option to play against a friend via Bluetooth or search for people online (we couldn't find anyone), but you'll get the most from this app by competing in the SPT World Tour, where you enter tournaments and win cash. Just know this: matches tend to drag on, so don't be surprised if a single tournament lasts 45 minutes.
Aside from that, you'll find the usual suspects one would come to expect. There are clay, grass and hard surfaces, a variety of locations (but no real world grand slams) and in the Virtua Tennis tradition, some spiffy looking visuals that bring all the players and tournament spots (London, Tokyo, Los Angeles) to life.
So yes, Virtual Tennis Challenge has some issues, and it would have been nice to see actual players instead of made-up dudes, but it's still an entertaining and at times intense sports game with attractive graphics and a fairly deep tournament mode. Considering the slim pickings of tennis games on the App Store, it's without question one of the best.
Review code provided by Sega.
What's Hot: Arcade style gameplay, visually stimulating graphics, four control schemes, 50 players, 18 detailed stadiums, deep SPT World Tour mode, wireless multiplayer over Bluetooth.
What's Not: Noticeable lag during matches, no tennis stars or female players, difficult to find online opponents.