For a lot of people growing up in the working class areas of England, tennis is akin to something like Christmas. Once a year, in this case the summer, we all get excited about the Wimbledon Championships. Tennis racquets that were bought in a hype-fuelled stupor the previous year, but have only been used as imaginary guitars since, are dug up from out the garage or from under the bed. Then we go out and buy overpriced celebratory snacks that are associated with event, such as Pimms and strawberries and cream, before heading down to the local hard court for a quick game.
Only the courts, which are normally empty throughout the rest of the year, are now overrun with wild weeds, wilder dogs and half the neighbourhood earnestly attempting to play cross court winners over a net that’s sadly drooping in the middle.
This hysteria would only last as long as there were English players still in the tournament. When they were all knocked out, we suddenly become Scottish and rode the wave of UK patriotism until the inevitable quarter final defeat. Then it was time to go home, put the racquets back in the garage and wait until the following year to do it all again. However, this whole routine was put through a loop in 1999.
Arriving on center court with an assured sense of swagger thanks to the awesome Sega NAOMI arcade system, Virtua Tennis was a big hit with gamers. It’s bright and punchy graphics, easy to play mechanics and thrifty arcade mode saw me sink a considerable amount of money into it. In fact, Virtual Tennis is the reason why I own one of the best consoles ever made, the Sega Dreamcast.
Over the ensuing twelve years or so there has been six iterations of Virtua Tennis. I have the first two on the Dreamcast along with the PSP World Tour Edition that was released in 2005, but took a break from the franchise and skipped over Virtua Tennis 3 and Virtua 2009. After flirting a little with rival tennis game Top Spin 4, I decided to get back together with Virtua Tennis, and just like an ex love, there’s a warm, comforting feeling you only get when you’re in the company of someone you know so well, but at the same time, there are those moments that pop up to remind you why you left them in the first place.
If you’ve played any Sega Virtua Tennis game before you’ll know exactly what to expect with this World Tour Edition for the PS Vita. Unlike the aforementioned Top Spin, Sega’s game has always been about pick-up and play arcade fun than simulated precision and nuance. Familiar modes such as arcade and exhibition allow you to jump right in and choose a tennis star from a roster of top names, including Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki, as well as legends like Boris Becker.
Controls are slick and the game’s pace allows for tense rallies to quickly develop, making matches exciting but occasionally frustrating due to outrageous wonder shots by the CPU on the higher difficulty levels. The Graphics on the Vita’s sexy OLED screen are crisp, colourful and full of intricate details. The character models vary in fidelity and real world likeness, but for the most part they are pretty good if a little waxy looking. This being a tennis game the sound is not really a priority. There’s perfunctory cheering and gasps of disbelief from the crowd and primal grunts from the players, and to be fair it doesn‘t really need anymore than that. Suffice it to say it all comes together well enough to add to the experience of being in a real match.
The meat and potatoes comes in the form of the World Tour Mode. Here’s where you can create a character and take them around the world via a hybrid board game map to compete in various singles and doubles matches, along with occasional bouts of autograph signing and resting up in swanky hotels. These activities allow you to earn points, which can then be redeemed for various clothing and play style unlocks. World Tour is also where you will take part in a bunch of madcap mini-games. From guiding a train of cute chicks (the cock-a-doodle-doo kind) back to their coop, to volleying balls at giant cards to make winning poker hands, the mini-games are designed to help improve various aspects of your technique and are a lot of fun.
As this is a Vita port, there are a few token options that take advantage of the machine’s tilt, touch and camera functionality via the VT Apps mode, but these are mostly trite and do not really add anything to the core experience.
Online play is a pretty straightforward affair with standard and ranked matches along with the ability to create your own clubhouse where you and your friends can play matches and mini-games. While playing online I did notice a little latency which can annoyingly break up your rhythm, especially after you’ve lined yourself up for a killer passing shot only to be undone by a delay in your character’s animation. This was a rare occurrence and overall I had a great time with it.
Familiarity can breed contempt, and in the case of Virtua Tennis 4 nothing has really changed. Yes there’s been tweaks to some of the game modes and the graphics and presentation have had a lick of paint, but it’s essentially the same game from 1999. If you’ve played Virtua Tennis 4 on the PS3 there’s no need to revisit it here. That being said, tennis games are perfect for playing on the go, and Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition is a perfect match for the Vita. You can dip in and play it for a few minutes on the train or go for for longer stretches while in bed, either way, Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition is not just for Wimbledon.
“Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” Depending on who you’re talking to, it was either Benjamin Franklin or Christopher Bullock that made this pessimistic but true observation. From devastating natural disasters, to crimes of passion and fatal diseases, the news is ﬁlled with stories of people dying. Frankly, many of them are unlikely to register in our minds. With approximately 150,000 people leaving the building every day, and our desensitisation to violence and graphic imagery increasing, this apparent lack of empathy is understandable. But there are times when you see or hear about a death that grips your attention. One that strikes a nerve and unsettles your thoughts to the point where you begin to question your own mortality.
On the evening of Tuesday 31st January 2012, a young Taiwanese man called Chen Rong-yu went to an internet cafe in the city of New Taipei to play League of Legends, an action RTS game developed by Riot Games. Finding a seat amongst a crowd of intensely jacked in players, Rong-yu settled down and began playing. He played throughout the night and into the following Wednesday. Around noon he made a call on his mobile before getting back to his game. It was the last time Rong-yu would be seen alive. The cafe waitress found him later that evening, his rigamortis stiffened body sitting at his computer, he had been dead for up to nine hours, sadly, nobody noticed.
Chen Rong-yu died from a heart attack. Initial reports into what caused it are cloudy, but police believe that a fatal combination of blood clots caused from cold temperatures, exhaustion and extreme lethargy were to blame. Family members were quick to point out that he had undergone treatment for a heart condition the previous September.
This is not the ﬁrst time a person’s death had been linked to excessive gaming sessions. In July 2011, Twenty year old Christopher Staniforth, a promising student from Shefﬁeld in the UK, collapsed and died while taking with a friend after a blood clot worked its way into his lungs. His distraught father ironically admitted that Chris lived for his Xbox and could play for 12 hour stretches at a time.
For years video games have been treated like the unwanted stepchild by the intelligentsia and moral guardians of society. Quick to be dismissed as adolescent entertainment for socially inept males, the status quo has seen video games cross the rubicon to a far wider audience thanks to the internet, smartphones and tablets. Social media has gone from marketing buzzword to common lexicon lingo, and has moved the goal posts as to what constitutes a gamer? Ask people why they play video games and the majority will tell you that they’re fun, something to do. A way to chill out and escape. Interestingly if you ask people why they smoke you’ll get a similar response.
To sentence video games as the sole reason for the deaths of Chen Rong-yu and Chris Staniforth would be harsh. However, you could ﬁnd merit in the argument that they are partly to blame. Although the jury still seems to be out on a overall consensus, video game addiction has again come under the spotlight with medical professionals calling for it to be classiﬁed as a genuine mental and psychological disorder.