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Virtua Tennis goes back home

SEGA on taking matters into its own hands.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

SEGA's Virtua Tennis, in its Dreamcast heyday, was considered by some to be the greatest multiplayer videogame around. Its appeal was clear: fast, responsive arcade action fused with devilish depth. The old easy to learn, hard to master job.

But recently – and to the disappointment of many fans - the racket strings snapped. Virtua Tennis 3 and Virtua Tennis 2009, from UK developer Sumo Digital, failed to set review scores alight. In the face of increasingly stiff competition from the simulation-focused Top Spin series, Virtua Tennis' star lost some of its shine.

But now VT is back. In an effort to revamp and revitalise the much-loved series, SEGA has dragged development back into the hands of the Japanese team that created the first two games. And, in an effort to add relevance and accessibility, it's focused on the new motion controlling revolution.

The Wii version supports WiiMotionPlus – this time properly, and the Xbox 360 version supports Kinect, allowing users to hit the ball with their hands. However, it's the PlayStation 3 version that will attract most attention. Using the Move controller, gamers are able to add spin to their shots with twists of their wrists - something Kinect is simply unable to offer.

So it is with Move controller in hand that Eurogamer sits down for a brief chat with Mie Kumagai, the creator of Virtua Tennis and producer of Virtua Tennis 4, to delve a little deeper.

Eurogamer When you created the first Virtua Tennis game, what were you setting out to achieve?
Mie Kumagai

Virtua Tennis 1 was created for the arcades. Back then, with what was happening in the Japanese arcade centres at the time, there were a lot of versus based games. One-on-one versus games were very, very popular. It was the fighting games.

I was thinking about doing a similar thing where we could offer a very entertaining versus experience, but I didn't want to restrict our target audience just to fighting game fans. So I thought, OK, sports games are a good, competitive genre.

Also I had in mind, what's simple? What can people play one against one that's simple, that people can jump on and straight away have a match? That's where tennis came in and that's how Virtua Tennis was born.

Murray vs. Federer.
Eurogamer What do you consider to be the series' core strengths?
Mie Kumagai

The main strength of the series is that we haven't changed our main concept, our philosophy, since Virtua Tennis 1. I know it was developed first in the arcades, but I wanted to offer a game with a large window so people could get into it easily and have fun against friends and family in their living rooms.

But also, on the other hand, we considered by making a realistic tennis game people can play over and over again. There's a lot of playtime that can be had with the games on the core side. With the casual side and core side, we wanted to make a game where the main concept was to take both, but a good balance of both.

This is the same goal we've had since Virtua Tennis 1. That remains the biggest strength of Virtua Tennis and it hasn't changed at all, even now.