Platform: Oculus Rift
Release Date: March 28th. 2016
I really, truly, wanted to like VR Tennis Online. From a concept standpoint, it makes a lot of sense to bring a sport like tennis to VR. Devices like the Oculus Rift let us do anything we could ever dream of like visit far away planets, fly spaceships, or even rule over a battlefield – so why not also put us on the tennis court for some intense action? Give it a cartoony Mario Tennis flair and it would certainly be a smash hit for the launch lineup, right? Not in this case.
VR Tennis Online is one of the most shoehorned implementations of VR in the entire Oculus Rift launch lineup. Nearly every element of the game is negatively impacted because of the use of VR and the core game itself is hardly enough to warrant a purchase in the first place.
The most obvious way to bring tennis to VR would be through a first-person point-of-view and the Oculus Touch (or in the case of Selfie Tennis, Vive) controllers. It’s a clear implementation of the medium. But even outside of that possibility, VR games in third-person can work, as Chronos and Lucky’s Tale prove, so that wasn’t a dealbreaker.
Then once I actually entered a match for the first time and realized the camera was set to follow my character around from an awkward hovering angle I realized that the notions of thought, care, and consideration for VR as a medium were absent from the brainstorming table when Colopl theorized how to bring tennis to the Rift. Why the camera angle can’t be adjusted or changed is baffling to me.
What makes the viewing angle even more of a nuisance is that if you approach the net and get too close, then the camera follows you. But then, if the ball is hit behind you or if you need to run backwards, you can’t see anything at all. It doesn’t swing around to let you see where you’re running, it doesn’t zoom out, instead, if you’re running towards the camera from the front of the court, you’re blind. The only situation that saw VR used in a clever way is when you serve the ball. During these moments, you have to physically look up to see the tennis ball slowly hanging in the air.
The rest of the game has your standard Exhibition matches, either Singles or Doubles, as well as online matches of the same variety. You can also enter a traditional Tournament mode for longer and slightly more structured gameplay. And that’s pretty much it. There’s no career mode and no character creator at all – things that have essentially become staples of the sports game genre.
Luckily, you’re at least presented with a diverse stable of characters to choose from. Each of them have different specialties (such as Speed, Technique, or Reach) and a few color palettes, but otherwise play exactly the same. You also have two different “special” shots to choose from, which can be unlocked and assigned regardless of which character you are.
However, it’s not all bad. In those rare moments where the camera is cooperating and the performance isn’t stuttering VR Tennis Online held some fun moments. The pacing is good and the different courts alter the gameplay enough to be compelling. But even then, it doesn’t have the same visceral quality that its contemporaries like Mario Tennis have.
I was only able to play an online match one time before writing this review, but the connection was fine when I found someone to play with. Since there isn’t any form of robust progression tied to the online mode outside of basic ranked matches, it doesn’t seem like there is anything to keep you coming back after your first few rounds. A sobering truth that extends to the single player content as well.
VR Tennis Online is a great example of a game that had the right concept – bring a fast-paced and exciting real-life sport to VR – but fumbled the execution. VR hinders the experience in several ways and the poor camera angle makes it difficult to even follow the action. What we’re left with is a game that can occasionally find moments of fun, but is mostly just a bad Mario Tennis ripoff.