Last year's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I was the first game branded "Better with Kinect Sensor" but it proved to be anything but. Now the second green-box-purple-stripe game has landed in the sporty form of SEGA's Virtua Tennis 4, but does it fare any better as a sensor game?
If you want to play with Kinect, you can only use the sensor in the game's dedicated Motion Play area. Here you can play an exhibition match against a human or computer opponent or play a simplistic minigame, but that's it: if you want to play in the World Tour, arcade, online or other game types, you'll need a control pad (or arcade stick, for purists) as Kinect is merely a sideshow attraction.
This turns out to be a blessing in disguise, as Kinect simply doesn't offer enough control over your shots to make it into a feasible control scheme for conquering the world. As the sensor can't track the rotation of your wrist you're unable to hit slices or top spins with any reliability, nor can you aim your shots well enough to play smartly. The camera continually zooming in and out of third- and first-person views is also more distracting than helpful, making it harder to judge when to swing to make solid contact. Thankfully there's little input lag, but you're still mostly hitting the ball back and seeing where it ends up; VT has always had an arcade emphasis, but stripping out player movement and shot control is going too far. You might load it up to entertain a friend for a game or two, but Kinect support makes up at most 10% of the entire package, so it's far too slight to make a big song and dance about.
With the traditional controller in hand the game absolutely delivers: the revamped World Tour mode is essentially a tennis-themed board game, with your custom character rising through the ranks by completing tournaments, participating in minigames and attending charity functions. There's enough variety on the way to make this a fun stab at a career mode, although it's not quite as deep as its major competition, 2K's Top Spin 4: you can unlock new players, clothing and minigames, but your control over the development of your player's skills is limited to improving fitness and building experience in specific areas. Once you've accrued enough points, you can choose a new play style — big serve, hard hitter, fast runner etc. — that feed into the game's biggest nod to its arcade origins: a super shot meter that fills as you perform appropriately to your play style, allowing you to unleash a powerful shot once full.
The super shot isn't the only inclusion that identifies this as a bona fide SEGA title. Blue skies are in abundance, and the minigames are as odd and addictive as ever: from making poker hands to leading chicks around the court, there's as much fun to be had chasing scores in the off-shoots as the main game, particularly with minigame Achievements too.
It should also be noted that Virtua Tennis is a superb looking video game, with 1080p support making the game gleam. While it features sports game staples — slow motion replays and lively celebrations — it's not interested in looking like a TV presentation, spurning statistics and other intrusions. The watercolour introductory video may jar slightly with the game's metallic presentation style, and the plastic-looking beads of sweat on the players' faces is a little frightening, but overall it looks fantastic.
Contradicting the "Better with Kinect Sensor" banner, Virtua Tennis 4 is far, far better with a traditional controller in hand: the Kinect support is too inaccurate and inconsequential to make a big difference on the game, hidden away like a forgotten prototype that was never removed. Ignore the Kinect support, pick up your pad and enjoy the best arcade tennis title on Xbox 360.