Seasoned arcade publishers Sega and Namco have done well for themselves with their respective tennis franchises, producing games that are far more fun than one might expect. Now, Konami is trying its hand at the sport with WTA Tour Tennis. The results are mixed, and a few key gameplay and graphical issues keep it from reaching the same level of quality as other tennis franchises.
For the acronym impaired, WTA stands for Women's Tennis Association, and the game's roster consists of 20 players who have competed in the WTA Tour, including some of the most recognizable names in women's tennis. Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, and Serena Williams are present, though oddly, Venus Williams and Anna Kournikova have been omitted from the roster.
WTA Tour Tennis offers three basic gameplay modes: tour, exhibition, and tournament. The tour mode emulates the real-life WTA Tour by putting you through a series of ladder-style tournaments. The exhibition mode lets you customize a single match of tennis, and the tournament mode is a mix of the tour and the exhibition modes, letting you customize the length and the seeding of a ladder-style tournament.
The game mechanics are similar to those of Sega's Virtua Tennis games, but the pacing of the game is noticeably slower and more methodical. When serving, you can choose between three different types of serves. The flat serve will shoot the ball straight down the court, and the spin and slice serves will cause the ball to curve sharply to the right or the left, respectively. During play, you can hit a straight flat shot by pressing the X button, or you can hit a topspin shot by pressing the circle button, which sacrifices ball control for speed. You can also give your shots more power by double-tapping the button right before you make contact with the ball, but it will take a bit of practice before you'll get the timing down on this technique. As you play through the game, you may notice a few gameplay quirks. For some reason, players are unable to hit a lob shot, which can be used to score against players who ride the net, and they will never dive for a shot that's just out of reach. The inability to dive, compounded with AI's susceptibility to smash shots, keeps the matches much shorter than they should be and makes rallies all but nonexistent.
WTA Tour Tennis lacks the graphical polish of the competition, but it still looks good enough. The game has a simple, clean look to it, but on a whole there isn't much texture detail. The animation is good, and in certain situations you'll see players make shots from behind their back or between their legs. There are some decent looking touches as well. Players will kick up dust as they move around the court, and their racquets will light up in a small starburst when they execute a really strong shot. Unfortunately, the game suffers from some pretty serious frame rate problems. The frame rate is pretty solid during singles matches, but it fluctuates wildly during doubles matches, making what might've been a rousing four-player game a virtually unplayable mess.
The sound in WTA Tour Tennis is greatly understated, but what's there is pretty good. The sound of the ball making contact with the racquet is quite satisfying, and players will grunt and shout throughout the match. The ambient crowd effects are well executed, and you'll occasionally hear members of the crowd cheering on specific players. Music is only played behind the menu screens, though what music is there is very forgettable filler.
Fans of arcade-style tennis games like Virtua Tennis or Smash Court will probably find the gameplay in WTA Tour Tennis a bit sluggish, and the lack of variety in the modes doesn't help the game's case, either. On its own terms, WTA Tour Tennis offers a decent game of one-on-one tennis, but if you really crave some solid four-player court action, you'd be much better off looking elsewhere.