They say you always remember your first. This can apply to any number of things, but in this case I’m referring to it in a gaming sense. More specifically, I’m speaking about the very first time I ever enjoyed playing a tennis videogame. The game was Virtua Tennis on the lovable SEGA Dreamcast. The Dreamcast met an untimely demise, and that might be one of the many reasons that this title never got the super-mass market exposure that it really deserved.
From the moment you boot up Virtua Tennis you can tell that its production values are truly second-to-none. The menus pop and the sound effects and music were top notch for their time. You can enter a number of different game modes such as Arcade, Exhibition and World Tour. There’s also a training mode to hone your skills, and trust me, you’ll need to.
The Arcade mode is where most folks start and this is where you’re going to get your first taste of your Virtua Tennis addiction. The graphics look good to this day, the character animations are amazing and you never get the sense that there are missing frames of animation. Many other tennis games will resort to jerky movements and animation frame skips in order to make you feel like you have control over your character when you’re frantically trying to reach for the ball, but Virtua Tennis somehow found a way around that and it’s buttery smooth all the way through.
Once you’ve played a decent amount of the Arcade mode, it’s time to try your luck at the World Tour. In this mode you’ll travel to different arenas, encounter various field types, and most likely get you’re ass handed to you a number of times before you are actually able to overcome the high skill level of some of the computer-controlled opponents. One of the Dreamcast’s taglines was “It’s Thinking,” and after what will seem like hours of trying to memorize the computer’s play style you’ll realize that there’s no way around it and you’re going to have to play like you’re competing against a real-life opponent. I’ll be completely honest, the AI in Virtua Tennis rivals that of any game that I’ve ever played, it’s that good.
If you ever get tired of the standard single-player modes (unlikely…) you can always have a friend join you for some intense 2-player action. The multiplayer component includes the options you’d expect and you can have your buddy join you on your own team, or face off against opponents from all over the virtual world. Heed my warning though, once your friend ruins a 10-minute volleying session with the AI because he was reaching for his beer, you may end up with some blood on your hands… I know from experience.