Format: iPad (reviewed), iPhone
As sports simulations become increasingly complex and realistic, it’s reassuring to know that developers are still keen to make games that are simple to play but remain challenging and void of cutesy cartoon characters.
The Virtua Tennis series has long been a subscriber to these principles in its console and arcade iterations, and most of the elements that have made it so popular are present and accounted for on Vritua Tennis Challenge on iOS.
With engaging arcade gameplay and surprisingly satisfying touchscreen controls, it’s one of the best tennis games on iOS, despite a lack of real players and a developed structure.
The likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray are all absent and you must create your own player from a number of base players. You can select nationality and a playing style, such as hard-hitter, serve and volley or all-rounder.
Sadly, you are unable to edit appearance, but it doesn’t really matter as the game appears to have similar facial models as those from Virtua Tennis 2009, which made players look as though they were meth addicts.
You can play as your player in exhibition and multiplayer matches and the world tour, which takes a rather strange freemium-esque structure. Three tournaments each day are possible, each of which have an entry fee. Money is earned through match victories, a daily allowance and sponsorship deals which are won as you progress in your career.
More prestigious tournaments cost more to enter and have more difficult opponents, but have a greater amount of prize money and yield more ranking points. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but it’s not exactly the most immersive career mode, especially when compared to the likes of console games such as Top Spin 4.
You can customise most of the stipulations for each match, including difficulty and the number of games and sets. This means that matches can be as short or as long as you want and as challenging as you wish – perfect for either short stints on the tube or five-set epics on a long distance flight.
There are a number of control schemes at your disposal, but the default method of swipe controls is atrocious and renders the game virtually unplayable. Fortunately, there are more usable schemes, such as a virtual joypad, virtual arcade and virtual pad.
The latter is the most efficient and uses a virtual joystick with a large top spin button and smaller buttons for lob, slice and super shots. There is no way of kicking an advertising board into a line judge like David Nalbandian did at Queens earlier this month, however.
More powerful shots are made by holding down the desired button, but it’s very rare that you lose control. Firmly entrenched in the arcade category of tennis games, there’s a very short period of adjustment before you become competitive in matches and although more initiative must be shown against more difficult opponents, rallies are mostly an exchange of topspin shots rather than a chess-like methodical battle of minds.
At the top of the screen is a bar which displays your player’s style. It can be filled by performing shots that fit in with this style, and once filled, you can unleash a supershot. While it’s still possible to lose the point when you perform a supershot, its more likely than not that you’ll win it, removing an element of skill.
Even more annoying though is that while the shot is executed, it changes camera angle and slows down time as though it were a scene from The Matrix. This is enough to disorientate you and prevent you from returning your opponents shot.
It’s not the most realistic tennis game that you’ll ever play, but that’s why Virtua Tennis Challenge is so appealing. Decent visuals (player close-ups aside) and good controls (once you find them) ensure that matches are engaging and fun, even if the slightly strange career mode isn’t.
The rather primitive World Tour mode and the absence of real players make the rest of the production values feel somewhat wasted. The lack of licensed players isn’t a dealbreaker, but they are present in other versions of Virtua Tennis and would be welcome here.
It’s not perfect but Virtua Tennis Challenge is an ideal companion for lazy summer viewing of Wimbledon, even if it is a bit shallow.