This is an amended version of a review first published last week, then withdrawn by the editor due to errors affecting our previous review of its main competitor, Grand Slam Tennis. Please see the Editor's blog for an explanation.
Thanks to the release of the Wii MotionPlus, tennis games suddenly find themselves the centre of attention as gamers try to establish the merits of Nintendo's new controller add-on. EA Sports' Grand Slam Tennis got the ball rolling, and now it's SEGA's turn to get us leaping around the living room in the name of science.
As you'll recall, Virtua Tennis 2009 was released a few weeks back on PS3 and Xbox 360, and proved to be a solid update to the series with an improved online mode. On the downside, the wearily unchallenging World Tour mode was a little disappointing, as were the curious player progression mechanics and generally lacklustre visuals. Bolting on motion controls might help inject some life into the series - or could just derail it entirely.
Virtua Tennis has almost become a victim of its own success. By nailing the fundamentals with intuitive precision and peerless fluidity at the first attempt, subsequent improvements have been somewhat incremental. The 2001 sequel added female players and speeded up the gameplay a notch, while the third added long-awaited online play and sharpened up the already superb visuals. Apart from updating the roster and perhaps making the online mode a tad more expansive and flexible, there's not much else tennis fans could really want from a 'new' version.
Perhaps not calling this Virtua Tennis 4 is more significant than it initially appears, because what we're dealing with here is a refreshed VT3 rather than a true sequel. The clue is in the choice of developer, with series creator SEGA-AM3 (aka Hitmaker) taking a back seat to UK starlets Sumo Digital (responsible for the Xbox 360 and PSP ports of VT3, and, more recently, last year's SEGA Superstars Tennis). After seeing how well the Sheffield-based studio handled both of those, no one should worry about technical credentials, but alarm bells always ring when a new team takes over a beloved franchise. Does Sumo stay true to the feel, or does its fresh perspective tinker to a ruinous degree in a misguided search for progress?
Initial concerns are laid to rest the first time you pick the game up. Sumo definitely hasn't broken things that didn't need fixing. The overall feel is much the same as it's always been, which is to say instinctive, stripped-down and fluid. The controls work on pure timing, positioning and shot direction, with the choice of topspin, slice or lob shots mapped to the same buttons as ever (and with four configurations available, every preference is catered for).