Virtua Tennis Challenge veers offside now and again, but manages to run away with a game, set, match.
For the first time, Sega has brought its famous tennis serious to mobile devices. Virtua Tennis Challenge is little more than a stripped down version of its console counterparts. You don't get to see big-name players like Federer, Nadal, or any of tennis' most famous women. The World Tour mode is barebones and there's zero online interaction. However, what it lacks in features and polish, it makes up for by serving up a great tennis experience.
One of Virtua Tennis Challenge's greatest features (and only small annoyance) is the control scheme. If you happen to own an Xperia Play, you're able to play the game with arcade-style controls. You move with the directional pad, and press a different button for each type of shot. Fans of console tennis games will likely be very familiar with this setup as it's the same that has been available in nearly every tennis game around
The touchscreen controls, however, are vastly different from traditional style gameplay, and are a welcome change for the most part. Everything is done by tapping or swiping the screen. It can be confusing at first (especially since it lacks a hands-on tutorial, and the how-to info is well-hidden), but once you get the hang of it, it generally plays wonderfully. You get four different shots and each one involves a different type of stroke. Your power and direction depend on the length and angle of the stroke, as well as a bit of luck, because it's not too difficult to hit the ball out of play.
Adding in movement is where the controls take a bit of a turn for the worse. To move your player, you simply need to tap a position and he'll head there. The issue that arises is that swiping will also cause him to move unless he can make a play on the ball. It's not uncommon to send your player charging at the net when you want him to just lob the ball to the other side. I found most of the points scored against me were due to my player running when I wanted him to swing. These mishaps become less common with practice, but you will inevitability run into them from time to time.
The game lacks any sort of deep season or career mode. On the main menu, you're given three modes of play: SPT World Tour, exhibition, and multiplayer (via Bluetooth). The SPT World Tour lets you create a character who will climb the ranks and try to become the top player in the world. Each day, you're given three tournaments to enter, with majors available a few times each week. Winning a tournament will up your rank and net you money to enter more tournaments. And if you run out of cash, you can get more from sponsors every day.
Exhibition and multiplayer are both straightforward. You're able to play singles or doubles against the AI (or humans via Bluetooth). There's not much customization to be had, though. Without stats, the characters don't seem to have much variety. Each one has a unique style that gives them a special shot (usable by double-swiping at the ball), but they don't really add a sense of ownership or variety.
One place where there is some freedom to customize is in the options menu. Virtua Tennis Challenge is a hard game and it knows it. There are three settings for the AI difficulty: Normal, Hard, and Very Hard. Normal is tricky enough as it is, and upping the difficulty will result in you taking a beating more often than not. The high difficulty means games often last long by default, but you can change the number of games and sets to help keep things moving.
There's not much depth and the controls can be a bit of a hassle at time, but with that said, the SPT World Tour mode is fun enough to keep your going until you reach number one. The gameplay is challenging but fair, and even the niggling controls work wonderfully most of the time. Even without much real-life influence, Virtua Tennis Challenge accomplishes one key goal: portable tennis action. It may be pricier than most mobile games, but if you enjoy hitting the fuzzy green ball, it'll be well worth your time and cash.
- Intuitive controls. Good level of challenge. Great core gameplay. Enjoyably addictive world tour mode
- Controls lack a bit of precision. Lacks a hands-on tutorial. Frustrating sense of accidental losses.