Talk to anyone that owned a Sega Dreamcast
in 1999, and they’ll likely tell you the Dreamcast is the greatest gaming system of
all time. What made the system so great was that Sega was at the top of their game. It felt like each and every month, an amazing
new game from Sega was being released. It didn’t matter the genre, or which of their
teams developed the game, it was always gold. A steady stream of gold, for an entire year
and a half. It was an amazing time. In 2000, Sega dropped this little gem onto
the Dreamcast, Virtua Tennis. Despite having never played a tennis game before, and having
zero interest in the sport, I promptly purchased Virtua Tennis and was immediately hooked. The logical place to start is the arcade mode.
The simplicity of the game is present right from the character select screen. There is
no wall of stats for players, no age, no height, no weight, nothing. Just a couple of meaningless
words that you can quickly ignore. The beginning of the tournament then starts
and the magic begins. The controls are quite simply, some of the best controls in a sports
game, ever. The strange Dreamcast analog stick works perfectly here, and your character moves
with a fluidity unmatched for its time. In addition to the analog stick, there are
just two buttons to use. There is your shot, and a lob. You’ll rarely use the lob, so
basically, Virtua Tennis is a one-button game. Despite the extreme simplicity of the controls,
Virtua Tennis is one of the deepest game’s I’ve ever played. While the early rounds of arcade mode are
fairly easy to beat, the game gets significantly more challenging as the tournament progresses.
Little tricks that work against weak A.I. opponents no longer work, and suddenly, the
game is playing you! You have to keep track of every little movement
of your opponent, and hit the ball accordingly. If you’re opponent makes a step to the left,
you need to hit the ball to the right. You also need to mentally predict where you’re
opponent is going to hit the ball. You need to make sure you’ll be in a position to
return the ball back, after your opponent hits it. It’s like the fastest game of chess of you’ll
ever play, you’re jockeying for position on the court, waiting to finally catch your
opponent off guard, and scoring a hard earned point. At the same time, your opponent is
doing the exact same the, to you. *** While a romp through the arcade mode is always
an immensely satisfying experience, Virtua Tennis also features a World Circuit mode
that gives the game some added depth for the Dreamcast release. Here, you compete in events across the globe,
unlocking more events, and earning money to purchase new characters, stadiums, and alternate
outfits. Even better, there are cool training levels that really show off Sega’s knack
for creativity. The bullseye event teaches you how to aim
your shots. As you are striking the ball, the position of the analog stick determines
where you’ll hit the ball. If you’re holding down, the ball will drop just over the net,
versus holding up, which will put it back near the line. Same goes for left and right. The bowling event teaches you how to serve,
utilizing the analog stick, and the power meter, to better place your shots. Not only
do all of these events teach you all the little nuances of the controls, they are just a lot
of fun to play. Virtua Tennis doesn’t stop there either.
There are also doubles matches, allowing up to four people to all run around the court
at the same time. As you would expect from a Sega arcade conversion,
the audio is amazing. Rock music is always playing in the background, and it expertly
sets the pace for the entire game. I also love how the announcer is always speaking
the language of the home court, rather than English. It’s little touches like this that
put the presentation over the top. In 2000, Virtua Tennis looked photorealistic.
15 years later, not so much. The player models are blocky and the textures are somewhat questionable.
However, the way the characters move still looks pretty convincing. However, it’s the
brilliant use of color that keeps the game looking fresh and appealing. Each of courts
in Virtua Tennis has a distinct look and feel, and despite their primitive nature, are still
a treat to look at. Virtua Tennis is a timeless game. The controls
are flawless, and anyone can pick up the controller and start playing tennis without much trouble.
Yet, the game is tough to master, with a ton of little details that make the harder difficulties,
truly challenging. The excellent presentation, and the incredibly unique World Circuit mode
are icing on the cake. Virtua Tennis is the essence of what made
Sega, and the Dreamcast, so great. Sega took the simple game of tennis, and turned it into
one of the finest video games ever created.