Virtua Tennis: World Tour Multiplayer Spotlight
We try out the Wi-Fi multiplayer in Sega's PSP tennis game.
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It's been a while since our last look at Virtua Tennis: World Tour, the latest in Sega's acclaimed tennis series. The series, which began in arcades but made its console debut back on the Dreamcast, is making its latest appearance on the PSP, complete with the same kind of sharp animations and compelling gameplay that has been a trademark of the series for years. In our last preview of the game, we took a look at world tour mode and all the associated minigames. Here, we want to explore the Wi-Fi multiplayer aspects, which should certainly add some legs to the game.
When entering multiplayer, you have the option to either create or join a game. After creating a game, you can choose from one of four starting positions on the court, two on the near side and two on the far side. In doubles matches, where you choose to start will determine whether you serve first or not. After your friend has joined your created game, he or she can choose to play either against you or as your doubles teammate. While it seems as though up to four people can join the Wi-Fi multiplayer fun, with each player controlling a single player in a doubles match, we only had two copies of the game on hand, so we couldn't confirm this.
From there, it's on to the match-settings screen, where you choose the game type (either singles or doubles); the match type (exhibition, quick match, or doubles tournament); the number of games in a set; and the tie-break option. With doubles matches, both players can play either on the same team or against one another, using CPU-controlled teammates. Options set, it's time to choose the player you wish to control from any of the real-life tennis stars found in the game--from Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt, or Andy Roddick on the men's side, to Lindsey Davenport, Venus Williams, or Maria Sharapova on the women's circuit. Mixed doubles matches are allowed, although mixed singles games are not. The bad news is, we couldn't use our created character from World Tour mode in multiplayer matches; this will be a flat-out shame if it turns out to be true in the final version of the game as well. We noticed some placeholders for what looks like created players in the character-select screen, but we weren't able to make it work. We hope this isn't the case when the game ships in October.
Once in the game, World Tour multiplayer's multiplayer performance seemed to be an up-and-down experience. At first, the game played fine, with the spot-on controls that we've come to expect in the single-player game in full effect. After the first set or so, we noticed a fairly significant lag set in, making optimal serves something of a chore and generally making for a difficult time on the court. The animations themselves didn't seem to chug; the game's gorgeous animations ran fine throughout. The lag between our controller input and the reaction of our player was noticeable, however, and made for some frustrating times in a game in which timing is essential.
One thing that looked quite sharp indeed was the opponent artificial intelligence. When we played a doubles match against two CPU-controlled opponents, we got our rear ends handed to us in straight sets by an AI that was clever, always evenly spaced to maximize both players' position on the court, and deadly with their shot precision. Normally there isn't much of a reason to play sports games in co-op mode--brain-dead CPU opponents don't make for much fun, after all; if the AI here holds up in the final build of the game, World Tour may end up being the exception to this sports gaming rule.
In terms of presentation, we already mentioned the gorgeous animations and colorful environments found in the game. The sharp resolutions on the PSP's small screen add to the effect, making this one of the better-looking handheld games in recent memory. Sound in the game seems solid so far--the sound of the ball hitting the racquet is effective, and the only voice-overs come in the form of the judge announcing the score or players' grunts during shots and serves, followed by the roar of the appreciative crowd. Music is limited to a few nondescript up-tempo tracks during menus that aren't nearly as audacious as those in many Sega games, and that fit nicely in the background, just as they should.
We're excited to see how far World Tour has come since our first look back in May. The game looks to carry on the fine tradition that Virtua Tennis has established on other consoles, this time for the handheld set. Though not without its problems, the Wi-Fi multiplayer aspect of World Tour is an enticing addition to the game, and, should the aforementioned issues be resolved, will likely be one of the best reasons to pick up the game. We'll have a full review of the game as soon it's released, so stay tuned.