Fernando Sanchez is Virtua Tennis Challenge’s [FreeRafael Nadal doppelgänger. So whimsically named after barely winning out against Brafael Nadalf in an interoffice poll, Bizarro Nadal quickly became my player of choice in the iOS version of Sega’s classic tennis series. Sanchez, like Virtua Tennis Challenge, is a pretty good facsimile of the real thing. He’s fast and has an incredible two-handed backhand, but he’s a facsimile all the same. A half-hearted attempt at greatness, poor Fernando’s Plasticine mullet and vacant zombie eyes are analogous to the lack of care Sega has given this, the newest entry in one of its most revered franchises.

Jarringly, disappointment and confusion set in from the get-go. Tennis games thrive on the simplicity of input, the best examples (Top Spin, Mario Tennis, some game called Pong) being the classics that make the simple act of swatting a ball back and forth enjoyable. What better platform then, than one that lets you accurately swipe your finger through the ball, right?

Not so much. The gesture-based touch controls are terribly frustrating and inaccurate, with an unnecessary two-fingered power shot mechanic. I could barely place in one of the game’s three daily tournaments using touch inputs. Luckily, I didn’t have to. Tucked away in the options menu are three alternative control methods, all of which are leagues better than the game’s default touch scheme. Mostly differentiated by their cosmetic characteristics, you can choose between arcade, virtual pad and game pad inputs. The virtual pad was the one I settled upon, with a Nintendo DS-style nub on the left side of the screen for player control and placement, and buttons up the right edge of the screen for shot types.

It transforms Virtua Tennis Challenge from a hot mess into what is the best-playing tennis game on the iPhone. You’ll soon be gliding around the court with ease, smashing home your third consecutive ace, or closing out a set with a venomous slice up the line. The accessible, skillful play the series is known for, rediscovered. And, like me, the entire time you’re briskly working your way to the top of the world rankings you’ll be thinking to yourself, “Why isn’t this the default control scheme?” It’s one of several questions I had during my time with the game, one of which included how it managed to ship with such serious performance problems.

On anything less powerful than an iPad 2, the game suffers from severe frame rate drops and loading issues. On my iPhone 4 I witnessed my FPS drop well below thirty, with severe load times and stuttering during menu transitions. I’m not overly sensitive to drops in frame rate, so it didn’t have a markedly negative impact on gameplay, but it does the online no favors. The online, which, for all intents and purposes, does not work.

Matches are unbearably laggy and I suffered repeated disconnects over a handful of networks during my tests. While one hopes Sega will fix this in a future update, it’s incredibly detrimental to the game’s longevity as an already bare bones port. Bare bones because, as mentioned, the game has the three daily tournaments to participate in, along with exhibition matches, challenge duels which are essentially fluffed up exhibition matches and a better off ignored tutorial. That’s it. Sans the arcade-y challenges the series is known for, any meaningful character customization or a working online component, there’s little to hold your interest past a few quick rounds of what’s actually some very good tennis.

My dear friend Fernando Sanchez is the product of Sega’s unwillingness to shell out for player licenses for the iOS version of their flagship tennis game. It’s a mentality that carries over to the rest of the game, a neutered effort and a disappointing lapse for one of the few large publishers with a deft hand for doing typically console and PC-centric franchises well on the platform. What’s there is fun, but at five dollars it’s difficult to support Sega’s apparent decision to treat Virtua Tennis Challenge as an afterthought.

We deserve better. So does Fernando.

TouchArcade Rating

  • http://twitter.com/GuidaiPad Guida iPad

    I've found the same flaws. I find 2.5/5 a bit too harsh though. The game is definitely playable and unlike you I really don't care about having Nadal or Sanchez.

    I could manage to play online. Better I didn't. After every point you have to watch the replay (I suppose the game is doing something in the meanwhile). Horrible.

  • miumius

    This review is a little harsh although I agree with most of it. (although licensing is costly and I could do without it).
    My rating (3.5/5) For an iOS tennis quick-fix game... The game is fine. Great graphics, controls (the gamepad), and animations are great for an iOS game making it te best tennis game in the app store. The inability to save or customize your character, minor bugs, framerate issues, and lack of some of he modes from the console hold this game down.

    ... If all bugs are fixed - 4 stars. TA gives 4 stars all the time ... I think 2.5 is a little harsh for what the reviewer calls the best tennis game in the AppStore.

  • regkilla

    I completely disagree with the review. I found this game to be very good. This is a game I could play for long periods of time and find it fun. At least give it 4/5 stars!

  • regkilla

    I play this game on my iPhone 4 and it plays flawlessly with no problems at all!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/WM37OFA3ZXG5VRTVM75VOFWF3I Vin Vin

    No problem on my 4S and I would rather rate it 4/5.

  • zaxxonjackson

    I was very surprised by the ratings.  I usually find myself closely aligned with toucharcade ratings, but this review just seemed like a miss, especially since this gets a pretty solid 4 of 5 stars across many user reviews in the app store.    The game runs well on my 4s and ipad 2. The gesture controls took a while to get used to (I'm very familiar with different releases of the VT series), but after playing through the 1st couple matches with frustration as they were not intuitive to me, I began to enjoy them and found them pretty effective.  I was a lot happier to make the games shorter (w/ fewer sets, etc) to enjoy this as a more casual game as I did not want to spend 15 minutes on 1 match!  I found this to be one of the more rewarding sports games experiences in ios.  If you are a fan of virtua tennis series, you really can't go wrong with this purchase, especially for 5 bucks!

  • tom devaney

    2.5/5 is definitely way too harsh for this game. I didn't find anything to be really wrong with it. Sometimes I do get mad at the swipe controls, but it definitely doesn't deter me from enjoying the game too much. I was happy that they made an actual tennis game for the IOS and I was very happy to play it. No glitches or hiccups for me also. I dont know what to rate it but its very very enjoyable for me. Probably a 4 or 4.5 for trying to make something new.

  • BlongBlong

    what are you speak about?

    "best tennis game in the app store"... bullshit!

    Real Tennis from Gameloft is still better (controls, speed _and_ the ball and the player are bigger - but ingame adverts are freaking me out there....).

    Thats a big fault in Virtua Tennis that the Sprites (Ball and Players) are to small on the iPhone....

  • RhythmMan

    "Real tennis" by gameloft is better, I agree. Better control and overall performance than virtua tennis.

  • http://twitter.com/BulkSlash BulkSlash

    Yeah I think the review is perhaps a bit harsh too. I rather like the touch controls on my iPhone 4, my only criticism being that the game sometimes ignores my swipes and I'll miss a shot (I think this would be alleviated on the faster 4S as I get a similar issue with GTAIII). 

    That said, in future it would be great to be able to play women's tennis and be able to shorten the matches a bit more. Even at their shortest they seem to go on for ages, which is a bit of a drawback for a mobile game that I will dib in and out of during the day.

  • GSport70

    I think the reviewer just is not good at the game. This game is awesome! The swipe controls take a little getting used to but that should be expected. Once you get used to this fantastic control option you will be playing like a pro.

    I am playing the game on a 4S. In career mode all is good. The only problem I run into, and it's a HUGE one, is online play is buggy. To be more to the point it is simply unplayable!

    If Sega can fix the online issue then I will rate this 5/5. For now I will give it a score of 4/5.

    It is one of the best games available on the iOS platform! I strongly recommend it.

  • MissDjax

    I would give it a 3.5/5 for now. with performance and network optimizations it could easily reach 5 stars but for now, meh.

  • ManuD

    I was thinking of getting this game. The game is in top 25 paid apps in my country & has fair user reviews. However, TA review is not that encouraging. Maybe, I'll wait a while to see if I can find better alternative in near future.

  • Alberto Garcia-Baquero Vega

    I enjoyed this game, but not as much as expected, better than Real Tennis, but not as good in playability and graphics to the FREE game Adidas micoach Tennis, probably the best tennis game for iPhone yet.

  • ghulamsameer

    Honestly, the game is great. It honestly just needs an update to fix the lag and that'll do it.

  • Luzsec

    This game is a online game, beware for traveling pocket gamer 🙆🏼

  • arnoldc

    I played single player mode with real game controller only. And it plays like a dream what once was in Dreamcast. 4.5/5 in my book.

Virtua Tennis Challenge Reviewed by Jonathan Glover on . Rating: 2.5