The first mainstream game ever created, Pong, was basically a game of tennis. Seeing the ball, or dot back then, moving from one side of the screen to the next has always been a mesmerising experience for gamers, but Virtua Tennis on the Dreamcast is where the virtual world of Tennis served its first ace.
SEGA always prides itself in bringing the arcade experience to the home, and Virtua Tennis was a shining example of it. After EA dumped the Dreamcast as a system to develop for it was up to SEGA to back itself and this was one of first SEGA-produced titles that landed on the Dreamcast. What you have here is a basic game of tennis on the surface, but deep down it’s a game that can last you for many, many hours, both in single player and multiplayer.
Virtua Tennis is also a throwback to older games where you could unlock extra characters and courts, instead of paying for the extras with real world money. Enter Arcade or Exhibition and you’ll have access to eight tennis legends that if you old enough will recall, including Jim Courier, Tim Henman and Carlos Moya, as well as five unofficial courts. Instead of The French Open it’s called ‘French Cup’ and Wimbledon has been renamed to ‘The Old England Championships’ – just as unimaginative as it is today, but it works well enough. Head to World Circuit and you can double the tally of tennis players and tennis court available for selection by unlocking it.
Once you enter the World Circuit you’ll have the opportunity to work your way through what is in essence the career as a rookie. You’ll be invited to trials and training events, whereby you’re awarded Dollars for completing either. A trial can consist of a singles or a doubles match against opponents ranked according to a level marker. It’s important that you enter the various training modes as you’ll be taught the basics and more advanced shots on the Dreamcast controller. Unlike the modern tennis games you’ll have to do with a ‘shot’ and ‘lob’ button, and use the analogue stick to place it on the court. Other than that the L and R triggers are used for doubles strategy, when playing with an AI by your side, and that’s as complicated as it gets. It’s a simple game for any person of any level to pick up and play. Get to the higher level AI opponents and suddenly things will get tough.
It’s a massive spike from level 4 onwards and requires a good understanding of the basic controls. At this stage you’ll also get to visit the shop where you unlock all the extra goodies. Extras can include AI partners for doubles games, each with their own pros and cons, as well as new stages, tennis gear, strings and recovery drinks. Unless the aesthetic of your character is important to you you’ll be sure to save up the many Dollars required to unlock those additional tennis players and courts first, though you’ll be disappointed to hear that both the players and courts are random mockups you would never have heard of before. World Circuit will take many hours to complete, but there’s one place Virtua Tennis smashes most competition – offline multiplayer.
If you can somehow gather four people in the same room you’ll have some of the most fun you’ll ever experience in a sports game. Virtua Tennis is great as a multiplayer game and in a world where it’s online ‘everything’ this is an offline gem. Because of the controls being so simple to pick up and play, but yet tough enough to master, it means anyone can play this game right off the bat. The controls and animations are smooth, considering that it launched in 2000, and has aged well in general. On thing that hasn’t aged all that well is the terrible music, just be sure to switch that right off.
Whether you’re an oldschool tennis gamer, or if this is the first tennis game you’ll get to play – the advantage is in Virtua Tennis’ court and you simply need to play it if you’re a tennis fan who owns a SEGA Dreamcast.