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December 1, 2002
Virtua Tennis 2 - Review
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Playing a doubles match.
It's funny to think that the very first computer video game was a little title called Pong. This game, for those of you who are unaware, is basically a very primitive version of tennis - albeit without the net. Although Pong was a great success there are, to this day, very few good tennis games available with Namco's Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament the most notable exception in recent years. Strangely, not even sporting giants Electronic Arts have developed a tennis game for any format.

In early 2000 Sega changed tennis games forever. They released Virtua Tennis in the arcades on the Naomi chipset (based on the Dreamcast), with a truly arcade perfect Dreamcast port following soon after. Sadly, few gamers experienced the game at home due to the failure of Sega's console, but this sequel has been developed for release on the Playstation 2.

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Davenport taking it easy.
Fortunately for gamers Sega have grabbed the rights to use 16 real players names and likenesses and have included both male and female starts including Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport, Magnus Norman, Patrick Rafter, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Mary Pierce, Ai Sugiyama, Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario, Alexandra Stevenson, Carlos Moya, Tim Henman, Cedric Pioline, Tommy Haas, Thomas Enqvist, and Monica Seles. As you can see from the surrounding screenshots Sega have made good use of this license with some excellent player models.

Of course, no tennis game is complete without different playing surfaces including grass, clay, carpet and hardcourt - depending on the location. As you would expect the ball reacts differently on each surface. On hardcourt the ball looses very little speed when it hits the surface and bounces high, while on clay the ball slows down considerably when it hits the ground and stays lower. The action is controlled through 3 buttons, the X button for a topspin shot, circle for a backspin shot and the square button for a lob. When hitting the ball you can also determine the direction and length by pressing on the analogue stick.

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The terrific bowling mini-game.
One of the greatest things about this game is its easy to pick up and play style. In only minutes you'll start mastering the different shots as well as having terrific rallies with the opposition. Virtua Tennis 2 offers a couple of game modes to explore. The first is the exhibition match, which allows you to play a single match, singles or doubles with up to 4 human players with a multi-tap. The next mode is the Tournament which allows you to play 5 singles or 3 doubles matches to become the champion. These modes pale into insignificance compared to the World Tour. This is the meat and potatoes of this game.

When you start the World Tour mode for the first time you will have to create a male and female player. These are then entered in the World Tour. Starting with a world ranking of 300 you are limited to the tournaments that can be entered. As you enter tournaments and win your rankings improve and you earn cash to purchase items in the shop. This includes new clothing, playing partners for doubles tournaments, stadiums for use in Exhibition matches and more. The other component of the World Tour is the training mini-games, which improve each of your players skills including serving, volleys and stroke shots. All in all this World Tour will keep you entertained for days, if not weeks.

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Williams is serving.
Problems are evident throughout the title. Firstly the number of mini-games is somewhat disappointing. More variety would have been nice, although the games there are entertaining - especially the bowling pin level. Another niggle is the sloppy programming for the player rankings. Lose a match and your ranking remains while the rankings aren't determined by who you beat as in real life but rather how many games you win. Strangely the rankings are also incorrect. Everything ends in a th - so you can rank 273th or 162th. A small oversight, but annoying nonetheless. But the biggest problem revolves around the AI of the computer-controlled players in doubles matches. For some reason they seem to completely lose their minds occasionally. At times a ball will be heading towards a CPU controlled player and they will just leave it, or worse still, run away from it. Most annoying when you leave it for them to hit. Fortunately this seems to affect both sides so by the end of the match it seems to even out.

Virtua Tennis 2 is a funny title graphically, it has some good points and some bad. In many respects this game looks like a step backwards from the Dreamcast versions. The graphics at times, and especially between end changes and at the end of matches look particularly poor with some serious aliasing issues and low resolutions. Likewise the crowds, while 2D sprites are horribly cropped so you will see a person and then and then yellow blocks around them as if they haven't been finished properly. But all is not bad. The game runs at 60fps with the only hints of slowdown (which may be intentional - I'm not sure) when the players perform a massive dive to reach the ball. Animation is fast and fluid while the ball leaves a lovely streak behind it to help you keep an eye on it during the match.

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Victorious Williams sisters.
Sound is also pretty good with some nice techno music as a backdrop to the games. Although there is an option to turn the music right down there really isn't any need as it never irritates or gets in the way of the gameplay. The sound effects are also with the announcer calling out when a player wins a match. Sadly if you are playing with a customised player the announcer is strangely quiet when you win. The developers could have implemented a "server wins" moment of speech. Also the player sound effects can be a little tame. There is the odd grunt, but hardly the Seles calls we are use to hearing on TV coverage of the sport.

This is one of those games that is better then the sum of its parts. The graphics and sound are merely adequate, and the game could have done with more game modes. Namco's Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament looks a lot more polished, and includes more bonuses to unlock. However, the reason why Virtua Tennis 2 is so much better is the gameplay. Yes, there are some AI problems with CPU in doubles action which will piss you off, but it happens on both sides and generally evens out. This game is just so enjoyable to play - it's fun, addictive, and great value at the lower price.

GRAPHICSNot as good as the Dreamcast game, but it's not a total disaster.
SOUNDNo commentary, music is adequate, and plenty of ball effects.
GAMEPLAYThis game is all about the gameplay, and in that case its a winner.
VALUENot too many modes but reaching No 1 in World Tour takes time.
OVERALLWhile Virtua Tennis 2 is disappointing in the graphics and sound department there is little doubt about the addictiveness of the game. This is one of the, if not the most enjoyable tennis title on a console. Better still Acclaim have released the title at the discounted price of $AU69.95 making it an essential purchase.

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