Virtua Tennis 4 Kinect and Move Hands-On Preview

We get served some Kinect- and Move-powered action in Sega's latest tennis sim.

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When we recently looked at 2K's tennis sim Top Spin 4, we discovered developer 2K Czech wasn't too enamored with the lack of buttons in Microsoft's motion gaming system Kinect, which it said made it difficult to move your character around accurately. No such qualms for Sega though, which has embraced the system with its latest entry in the Virtua Tennis series. The developer has implemented a new hybrid camera and automatic player movement, which have been designed to make the motion controls seamless, even if your flailing arms aren't as accurate as Nadal's swing. There's Move support too, with or without a navigation controller, plus stereoscopic 3D for PlayStation 3 users with suitably equipped TVs.

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Being the active bunch we are, we couldn't resist jumping into a two-player Kinect-powered version of the game to see how the button-free motion controls held up. After picking our avatar from a selection of famous names--including Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Maria Sharapova--we hit the court for some one-on-one singles. In two-player, the screen is split vertically, corresponding to how the Kinect sees each player. Serving was as simple as putting a hand up in the air and swinging, with our opponent returning our serve with a swing of the arm.

To make it easier to return balls, the camera switched between first- and third-person viewpoints. When serving or moving around the court, we saw our avatar in the third-person, but when the ball was coming toward us, it switched to the first-person view. The system was a little disorientating at first, and there's quite a steep learning curve for returning the ball, with late swings resulting in entirely missed shots. Lining up shots was easier, because our avatar automatically moved around the court to put us in the best position to return the ball.

Performing different types of shots was as simple as adjusting the swing of our arm, or twisting our body around for backhands. Faster swings resulted in faster shots, and by angling our arms we could direct the ball to different parts of the court. We did try our hand at adding backspin and slicing shots, but found them quite tricky to pull off, at least without much practice. Using the Move offered a similar experience, though with the navigation controller you can move your avatar around, but sadly this wasn't something we could try out.

In addition to the standard career and versus modes, there's a party mode, which features a selection of tennis-powered minigames. One game we tried had an Egyptian theme, and we had to knock down a group of mummies who had invaded the court. Each mummy carried a different score, with ancient artifacts such as masks and vases carrying bonus points. A flurry of tennis balls were thrown toward us, and with some frantic swinging we showed the mummies that tennis players aren't to be trifled with--especially when points are involved.

It's a little-known fact that Ana Ivanovic invented the one-handed handstand trick shot.
It's a little-known fact that Ana Ivanovic invented the one-handed handstand trick shot.

Using motion controls felt more natural than pushing buttons, but with both the Kinect and the Move it was more difficult to pull off trickier shots with our arm than with a controller. That said, with practice we could see people getting more skillful, though those with small living rooms will no doubt bruise a few bodies in the process with over-exuberant flailing. Virtua Tennis 4 is due for release this spring on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii.

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