I am not, as a rule, a fan of sports games. The reason for this is simple; unlike racing games, which are for the most part accessible even to people who don't drive, or FPS games, which remain hugely enjoyable even for people who aren't gun-crazy lunatics who bathe in green alien blood, sports games are aimed squarely at fans of the sport in question. There are few non-football fans who can glean much enjoyment from PES (although I'm sure all three of them will now post in the comments thread, just to prove me wrong); American sports titles like Madden remain largely impenetrable for European audiences who don't follow the peculiar pastimes of the Colonials. As an Irishman, the majority of sports games send me to sleep - wake me up when there's a decent hurling game (the ball game, not the drunken vomiting - although I'll be the first to confess that the latter is also a popular pastime of my homeland) or a rugby game that doesn't suck.
How do you improve a game as good as Virtua Tennis 2? Even though it's been four or five years since its release, it's still the best tennis game on any platform, anywhere. The sheer simplicity of the series masks an astonishing achievement: by pinning down the physics of a tennis ball and tying it together with simple, effective controls the game boils down to position and timing. Which means it's basically as open-ended as the real thing, and each game - heck, each point - is capable of unfolding into infinite possibilities. So exactly how do you build on 'one of the most enduringly playable games of all time' (as it's been referred to in some very highly respected quarters)?
The demise of the Dreamcast some five years ago seemed to throw a spanner in the works of some of Sega's most treasured new franchises of that era. Case in point Virtua Tennis, which enjoyed chart-topping success back in the summer of 2000 and a quick-fire (but fantastic) sequel a little over a year later in the dying days of the company's first party releases for its much admired console.. Fans clung onto the belief that the Japanese company would one day re-ignite the brand, but all we got were a couple of handheld fillers to tide us over.