Version tested: PlayStation 2
Without wanting to bore anyone with what a great games machine the Dreamcast was, two of the greatest sports titles ever made were released on the console: Virtua Tennis and its superior sequel Virtua Tennis 2.
As a result of Sega's state of flux in Europe since its withdrawal from the hardware market, it has seen its games handled by all manner of industry players including Sony, Bigben, Infogrames and Acclaim. Suffice to say that its games have not received the focus they deserve, and in some cases - as with Virtua Tennis 2 - caused a conflict of interest, with Sony washing its hands of distribution duties while it fulfilled its duties on Namco's vastly inferior Smash Court Tennis.
Luckily for the millions of PS2 owners out there, Acclaim has managed to pluck this gem from Sega's vaults as part of a multiple title deal, also encompassing Virtua Cop Elite and Sega Bass Fishing Duel.
Unlike Acclaim's other PS2 Sega titles (Crazy Taxi, 18 Wheeler), the porting duties have been handled by the original developer - in this case Hitmaker. Thus, we have a totally faithful conversion that proves, yet again, that the Dreamcast was a machine well and truly ahead of its time.
All the elements of the original are intact with nothing added or taken away. So, we get 16 'top ranked' male and female pros, including Venus and Serena Williams, 'Tiger' Tim Henman, Pat Rafter, Yuvgeny Kafelnikov and so on, but lacking some of the obvious stars - not that it actually matters.
Support for up to four players has mercifully been retained, so Multitap owners need not worry, enabling gamers to have almost illegal amounts of multiplayer fun in singles or doubles contests.
But even the lone tennis player is in for a treat, with a ridiculously entertaining single player 'World Tour' campaign mode that has you battling for the number one world ranking across a variety of singles, doubles and training matches - some of which are incredibly addictive, and for the most part actually help improve your game, testing you in how accurate you can place the ball, reaction times and so on. The really committed player will eventually unlock a host of extra stadia, and even hidden players that will become deadly weapons in multiplayer contests.
We've undoubtedly said it before, and we'll say it again. Virtua Tennis 2 is one of the best games ever made, on any system, for combining fantastic graphics, brilliant camera angles/action replays, and instant playability with a beautifully simple and intuitive control system.
How good you'll be at the game is mainly down to you - your timing, the direction you put on the shot, and how you react to your opponent. You genuinely feel in control, a sensation so many high gloss sports titles can't claim to offer, and as a result the more you play, the more you get out of the game. Whereas the wonderful Pro Evolution Soccer titles require inordinate amounts of practise before you can stop looking like an idiot, Virtua Tennis 2 is the kind of game that non gamers can pick up, understand, and give you a decent game at within a few minutes.
The presence of female players adds a whole new dimension versus the original Virtua Tennis, with the speed of the men noticeably quicker. Throw in the array of surfaces, and players with their own strengths and weaknesses, and you have depth and subtlety that becomes enormously apparent with repeated play.
Plays identically, but mind the jaggies
While the PS2 version plays identically, and if anything is nicer to play thanks to the superior joypad, in the looks department it doesn't quite hit the heights of the Dreamcast original. Jaggies are all too apparent, and the sheen is lost. A certain coarseness shows through as a result, although to be fair this will only be truly apparent on top notch TVs through RGB out. In all other aspects Hitmaker has done a sound job of converting this remarkable tennis title to the PS2.
Many potential purchasers who aren't into tennis will wonder why they need a tennis title in their collection. But the proof of just how good Virtua Tennis 2 is, is that you'll actually want to play the real thing after a few weeks playing this (no, really!). And if you're actually a big fan of the sport, there really is no excuse not to play this game - it renders all other tennis games redundant. It really is one of those titles that will capture your life, and reminds you of the days when games were purer, more immediate, and insanely addictive. Buy this game, you won't regret it.
9 / 10