Virtua Tennis 4 is a technological hussy; a game that jumps into bed with just about every bit of tech on the market. It snuggles up with Move, Kinect, Wii MotionPlus and still lavishes attention on your bog standard control pads, too. It loves a bit of 3D on your HDTV (PS3 version, only), and flirts with your friends (and indeed strangers) over Xbox LIVE and PSN. To ditch the rather strange metaphor: it ticks all the boxes. For Virtua Tennis fans (and I didn't realise what a hearty bunch they were until a recent preview event), VT4 is even more alluring because it sees the reigns of development returned to the capable hands of Mie Kumagai and the original Virtua Tennis team in Japan. Virtua Tennis 2009 was handled by UK-based Sumo Digital, you see, and while it wasn't a bad game, the general response from this event suggests the fourth iteration of the series has much more of a buzz about it.
Let's start by talking about how Virtua Tennis 4 incorporates the myriad of motion technologies. Interestingly, rival tennis series Top Spin has opted to eschew Kinect (as apparently this limits the tennis experience too much) but SEGA is firmly adopting the opposite stance. The first thing you'll notice - and this applies to the Move version, too - is that there's no method of player control. All of your footwork and positioning strategies are handled automatically, leaving you to worry about the angle and timing of your swing. The perspective shifts from third to first-person as your opponent sends the ball your way, with a ghostly hand and racket mimicking your movement on the screen. But Kinect can't distinguish between anything more complex than backhands, forehands and smashes. This essentially boils the whole experience down to a matter of timing, with even that being ruined thanks to a slight lag.
The Move version is less frustrating, primarily because it doesn't make you look like a madman engaged in a frenzied slapping competition with the air in front of the TV. Technically speaking it's more competent, too. With what feels like a slightly chunkier tennis racket in your hand, your movements are mapped one-to-one with no perceivable lag. As Move controllers can also detect the angle of your swing, you can be more technical with your shots and ball placement, too. If you want to play a tennis game in your living room, playing on PS3 with Move is the best way to forget the sofa and bookshelves and imagine you're on a real court.
You don't have to use motion controllers if you don't want to, of course, and core Virtua Tennis fans won't even consider the choice between a pad and motion controller to begin with. After playing Top Spin 4 the week before, however, I don't think SEGA's controller input felt quite as fluid, for lack of a better word. That to-and-fro, back-and-forth nature of tennis seems to come through a lot stronger in 2K's take on the sport. Virtua Tennis 4, as you might well expect from the series' roots, is the more arcadey option of the two. Perhaps the fancy dress mode that allows players to dress their tennis stars up in garish one-suits and silly hats gave me that impression. Please don't misinterpret my tone: this is a good thing.