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Virtua Tennis 4 offers an exuberant Kinect mode that initially impresses. However, because it's not integrated into the main game, and doesn't support more than two players it was more a novelty than ongoing interest.
Kinect is something of a mixed bag for gamers like me who mostly want to play with friends. It's good at involving more people in what's going on in the game - seeing anyone playing a Kinect game is enough to make you stop and stare - but it's not as good at accommodating more people in the action simultaneously.
Virtua Tennis has been a long time passion of mine, from the arcade right through to the console versions. I was glad to see it back in the hands of the original developers this year, and also curious to see how it made use of the Kinect controls for multiplayer gaming.
It took me a while to realise that the Kinect controls weren't actually part of the main game. In the meantime I had got quite distracted with a tournament I had started with the intention of testing them out. This is testament to the return to form, and general engaging accessibility of Virtua Tennis 4's approach to the game. I was taken right back to the mind-stretching encounter I had on first seeing the game -- the combination of player control and computer simulation that work together to create an experience remarkably like the real thing.
I eventually discovered the Motion Tennis mode in the menu and got started with Kinect. I know I shouldn't have been surprised, but I'm still a little disappointed when Kinect games don't support more than two players at the same time. In fact I don't think there are any that do, but I'm sure the initial marketing about the device mentioned four players and it stuck in my brain.
Playing the game with Kinect is entirely different to using a gamepad.
Playing the game with Kinect is entirely different to using a gamepad. In fact it feels like the physics and general mechanics of the game are different here too. This is for the good, because the same control limitations seem to be experienced by both the computer controlled players and yourself.
Like Virtua Tennis 4 (MotionPlus) and Virtua Tennis 4 (Move) gesture modes you don't control where your player moves on the court -- that is looked after automatically. You can move into the net, and with Kinect this is achieved by simply stepping towards the screen. It's a small thing but really added to the sense of realism and connection to the action.
As the ball approaches you the game switches to a first person view and you can see your racket. You then simply swing your arm to make a shot. This all works well, although the racket head itself seems to jump around somewhat. This is because it seems to use the same functionality as the MotionPlus and Move version of the game. Those technologies can detect the rotation of your wrist and translate that to the screen, whereas Kinect can only see your limbs.
I was surprised how well the Kinect mode worked, particularly with two players.
Having tried the Wii and PS3 versions I was actually quite surprised how well the Kinect mode worked, particularly with two players. Something about not holding a controller and the exuberant gestures required to make the shot has you moving around the room much more than the other versions.
It still suffered from a few teething problems - such as opponents missing very easy shots and the difficulty of achieving a drop shot - but in the main it worked as well as could hope. If it had been able to support four players this would be one of my favourite Kinect titles. As it stands Motion Sports and Kinect Sports still have the edge for me here.
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