If it weren't for 16-bit classics like Smash Tennis and Super Tennis, the average quality of the tennis videogame genre would be surprisingly low. Without Hitmaker's Dreamcast version of Virtua Tennis though, it would probably have sunk right off the bottom of the chart. Virtua Tennis 2 is a highly anticipated game, and it comes at a time that new Dreamcast games are few and far between. If it wants to sell, it has to impress fans of the original game (i.e. a large percentage of Dreamcast owners out there), and with this in mind Hitmaker have brought along improved visuals and a larger selection of players, and they have tweaked the gameplay mechanics too. Will VT2 leave a significant enough impression? The interface and main game options remain pretty much the same, with tournament, exhibition and World Tour modes still providing the bulk of the action. In tournament mode, you have to battle a number of world-class tennis players to claim the crown of world number one, whereas in exhibition mode you can just choose someone to wallop a ball back and forth with in a best-of-three. World Tour has been changed slightly, this time including the option to create your own player. Once you've chosen a suitable appearance and given him some reasonable attributes, you play a selection of mini-games, which improve your player's tennis abilities, and you face increasingly difficult opponents as you fight to break into the world tennis circuit. After a while you can quality for and play in tournaments and grand slams, with huge cash incentives and luxury doubles matches to look forward to. This is all very well, however, but is more or less the same as the original World Tour…
The most noteworthy change at the beginning of the game is the introduction of a large number of female tennis players, including celebrities like the Williams sisters. Unfortunately you cannot play cross-gender matches, but you do get the best of both worlds as a result. The women's game requires a gentler approach, with a certain deftness of touch absent from the men's game. Once you're on the court it's clear that Hitmaker have updated the AI, with players now eyeing you up between points and picking out your weaknesses early on. The control system has been sharpened, with fewer sloppy reactions, and the court and proportions of the players seem to have been tweaked. The players certainly don't have as much diving about to do, and Hitmaker have added some amusing overhead shots for those desperate base line bouncers. Practically speaking, the control changes will annoy fans of the original for a few minutes, but it's worth it. Finally we have the graphics and sound to touch upon briefly. Virtua Tennis had some stunning graphics for a Dreamcast game, and Hitmaker have determined to give them a nice spring clean instead of scrapping the lot. Player animation and modelling is clearer, and the lighting and court detail have been upped a bit. Of course, the game also features a 60Hz mode and otherwise looks largely the same as Virtua Tennis: jolly nice. Aurally we're talking about a few swift tweaks here and there, with a new electronica soundtrack. It works surprisingly well for something so obviously illfitting.
As with its predecessor, it only takes a few minutes to get the hang of Virtua Tennis 2, and if you don't own the original game you must seek VT2 out. It's the best example of a tennis game we have. It is a far cry from Virtua Tennis' worthy successor though, unfortunately. Your own love for Virtua Tennis will command the purchase decision in this case, but as an annual update I have to give Virtua Tennis 2 a fairly harsh rating, because it's obviously not just scotch tape and bits of string, but it's not even an EA-level improvement.