I can't stand that they're similar!
Some find it unfair to compare Virtua Tennis 4, whose roots are firmly in the arcade, to Top Spin 4, which leans toward the simulation side of the sport. But those are usually the same people who think that anyone who favors Top Spin 4 to be biased. Both games have similar controls, similar presentation, similar star-studded rosters, and both are about, dare I say it, tennis. You would have a harder time telling the difference between a woman's grunt when she swings a powerful backhand and her wild-like-fire sex moan.
[image1]Where Virtua Tennis 4 excels is where Top Spin 4 could improve the most: the career mode. Instead of grinding through a series of tennis match types with little variation, you are placed on a board with linear paths filled with circular spaces that represent a mini-game, a match type, or an event. By upgrading your player's skills through mini-games and earning stars through charity events and winning matches, you can earn your place in the most prestigious tournaments and become an "ultimate star".
To move around the board, you are given three movement tickets numbered 1 through 4, which means that there is a strong likelihood that you will not have the right ticket to land on the space you want. You can purchase some extra tickets from a management office (if you land on it), but that helps little. Moreover, you must make sure you rest at hotels or use a recovery ticket to keep your condition high, earn enough stars to get the good ending by the end of the world tour, and then reach the last space by the allotted number of days/turns or be penalized. While this randomness encourages you to replay the mode over again, it's just as frustrating to have your fate be in some measure out of your hands, especially for a sports title.
On the scale between casual and hardcore tennis titles, Virtua Tennis 4 fits squarely between Mario Tennis and Top Spin 4. While it doesn't ask for exact timing for releasing a swing, it does ask for proper placement behind the ball before attempting one. Most players can run quickly around the court and most shots tend to arch gently over the net, so unless there is a very wide open court, expect any shot you make to be returned. In other words, expect long rallies.
[image2]That said, there is just no clear winners no matter which shot you choose, be it a slice, a top spin forehand, or a drop volley, which is perhaps intentional to make power shots more effective. By performing specific shots as determined by your player's tennis style, you build your momentum gauge, which when full, can be unleashed in an all-out, wide-angled winner. But these power shots don't come often enough to justify dampening all of the other shots in the standard arsenal. Some shot animations can also leave your player moving back for too long, time that would be better spent moving back to the center.
None of these are a huge complaints, though, at least not enough for this reviewer to stop playing through career mode. The mini-games, fast-paced matches, and multiplayer offerings are strong enough to keep most anyone engaged. The number of create-a-character selection is bare and the animations for winning a match become repetitive quickly, but that's not going to prevent arcade-oriented tennis fans from getting through the entire game. The weak Kinect offering, which is close to being a disaster with the lack of shot variety and inadequate swing detection, won't deter them either.
If you go into Virtua Tennis 4 wanting a realistic interpretation of tennis, then you're already on the wrong court. Top Spin 4 is without a doubt a much better simulation, but Virtua Tennis 4 is about hitting the ball with a swift pace and without too much pressure on the technical side. While both games more or less occupy the same video game space, Virtua Tennis 4 is less of an aggressive winner down the line and more of a straight, albeit simple, shot down the center of the court that lands deep enough to force players into a competitive but friendly rally.