The famed Virtua Tennis series returns from the Sega vault volleying its way over to the next generation of consoles. It’s been a long time coming and it seems Sega hasn’t missed a step. Federer, Roddick, Venus, Sharapova, and more tennis elites invite you to a friendly game of Virtua Tennis on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.
Since last years X’06 in Canada I have been anticipating the release of Virtua Tennis 3 from Sega. I’m not a huge Tennis fan for watching the sport on TV, but in games, and in real life Tennis is a lot of fun. Besides Top Spin's original run on the Xbox, and the Xbox 360 follow up there hasn’t been a Tennis game worth mentioning until now. Virtua Tennis 3 has stepped up and filled the void of Tennis games and almost without competition besides Wii Sports, and can you really call that competition?
Sega’s Virtua Tennis 3 (VT3) hits the racket towards an arcade approach in the gameplay department with a sim-styled career mode added on. How this is achieved is by balancing stat building amongst arcade styled physics and game mechanics. Virtua Tennis 3 goes overboard in a number of occasions, wait till you see the minigames, but for the most part the Tennis is straightforward without any power ups, gimmicks or trick shots. Virtua Tennis 3 is about having a Tennis experience that flows like water which is easy to pick up in play. Sega really polished the feel of Virtua Tennis 3 making this a fun and simple game to get into and get hooked.
The big draw for Virtua Tennis 3 aside from the accessible gameplay is the career mode. Sega has improved this area with a fair amount of options to keep you busy for a few years on the court. The career mode starts you off with an average create a character segment that accommodates both male and female players. After creating your character you’re in the circuit getting email updates from your coach, building up your skills, and watching the schedule while planning a run at the next big tournament. The event list is broken down into a weekly schedule that will fill your months with action. An average month of game time usually has you training for two or three segments, competing in tournament, and taking some time off for some much needed R&R. If you’re not careful you can overwork your player, so it’s wise to take a week off resting at home instead of the easy option of energy drinks. During your game you will have to monitor your stamina or you will set yourself up for an injury which can sideline you for over a month; I learnt that lesson the hard way.
Training your character can actually be more fun then participating in tournaments. Credit can be given to Virtua Tennis’s creativity to this area. The mini-games are varied from a tennis school to various other events that are unrealistic and lots of fun. For example you can be volleying a massive tennis ball in reconstructed sports like curling and bowling, or even play bingo, serving balls against numbers. They have even included a game where you doge giant tennis balls as you collect fruit called Avalanche which is one of my personal favorites. Virtua Tennis 3 might stretch reality, but never once does it become boring or two contrived for the games theme. Training raises your skills marginally, so if you want to become one of the greats expect to spend some time learning the basics at the Tennis school then fine tuning certain areas with the mini-games. The mini-games are also separated in a section off the main menu if you want to replay them alone, or with friends, the option is available.
The tournament part of VT3 is a little less interesting, but it can still be fun and entertaining. Single and double tournaments are available in locations around the world like France, England, USA, Germany and even Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The courts also span a number of styles from clay to grass courts. The variety is adjusted except when it comes to your opponents. VT3 recycles the star players they have signed on so you will have the same match more than once. This lessens the impact of achieving championships dulling your victories. It good to beat Roger Federer who is ranked #1 In the world since 2004 once, but three times in a few months it’s a little redundant. If you miss a tournament you really don’t have to worry much because the year’s time line plays through quickly. Having a yearly schedule extends the life of Virtua Tennis and gives the player a sense of purpose, but the limited amount of pro players hurts this reality. It would be great if Sega could make a downloadable pack of extra players for the future to give VT3 some extra life.
Virtua Tennis 3 also throws in a handful of short cut scenes that could have been cut involving the pros giving quick one liner comments. These segments are poorly animated with text captions and no voice over work. Talking the pros could have been more involved and these quick one liners don’t add much to the game. The character models up close don’t look so great compared to when you see the characters on court. This doesn’t help out the fact that we are missing overdubs, and the whole system seems like a last minute add in. A few other extras in Virtua Tennis 3 are upgrades to your characters digs like new clothing and items like rackets. It is all very standard and nothing you haven’t seen before. This area of VT3 could be expanded and enhanced. If Sega continues with the franchise, I would like to see more items, maybe even a store, and more in-depth story lines between your character and the pros.
The achievements in Virtua Tennis for the Xbox 360 version are fairly easy to unlock, within my first hour of playing the game I turned over a good five or six. This definitely ties into the difficulty level of the game. I felt Virtua Tennis to be an easy start with matches only lasting one to two minutes a piece. It helped boost my confidence, but I think the slider is set a little too low for the first portion of the game. I'm talking about matches with the pros that would only last two minutes or less. Virtua Tennis 3 picks up its game when you reach the plateau of 200s and then the matches become a little more challenging, and even more so when you get into the 100s. To be successful it is good to study your opponent and try to adjust your playing style each new contender. I found that my solid strategy that got me down the first hundred in rankings didn’t work at the 200s. I had to really re-work my approach in each match adjusting to my opponents playing style, strengths and weaknesses.
The Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions are closely tied up. The PS3 version addes some extra movement controls with the PS3’s Sixaxis controller and lacks online play including leadboard support. If you can grasp tilting the controller to move your character the Sixaxis controls might be interesting, but I found the tilt to be an annoyance that made the game too difficult. Plus, there are already two options for movement with the D-Pad, and the analog stick.
The omission of online gaming doesn’t help the PS3 version, so If you happen to own both systems, I would recommend the Xbox 360 version. Besides playing multiplayer matches including the ability to import your custom character, the online portion of Virtua Tennis 3 has an online feature similar to Project Gotham TV. In this mode you can watch live matches or even participate in live matches that are being viewed by thousands. This is great if you really get into the community and participate in online tournaments. The difference between the two versions is probably because Sega used two internal developers for each platform. It's too bad the PS3 version isn't on even ground with the Xbox 360, I would have gladly waited another month or two for online support.
Visually, Virtua Tennis 3 is looks polished running at a solid 1080p on both consoles, which is a first for the Xbox 360. The graphic quality of the players seems more plastic then realistic, but that really doesn’t hinder the game looks given its arcade roots. The characters models outside of the glossy sheen look great and Sega has done an admirable job making the animations smooth along with clothing movement on the characters. The graphics start to falters when you look to the outer sides of the court. The onlookers and courting staff all seem lifeless and plastic as they stand motionless and watch the action. It’s all very surreal and unnatural, of course when playing the game you really don’t spend too much time looking at the scenery so this could go unnoticed, but if you do it slightly dampens the reality. Some other aspects that stood out way the bright colours of the courts that seem un-natural and weird at times. The grass courts look the best by far being warned in, but I couldn’t help to wonder if it could have been better with more realistic grass and wear that increases over the span of the tournament.
The audio is also a mixed bag with a side order of cheese. The music isn’t really contrived 80s rock mixed with forgettable instrumental pop-rock scores. Virtua Tennis 3 seems like they found some backing tracks from old Motley Crue sessions and then added some keys. Besides the soundtrack, VT3 does a great job with the sound effects including crowd cheering and the announcers using the native tongue of the stadium your playing in. Presentation wise, VT3 comes together in a nice sleek package that could use some tweaks, but comes off very playable and polished.
I’m glad Sega has revived their Virtua Tennis franchise, making it more refined then previous versions while keeping their traditional smooth arcade gameplay along with a more in-depth career mode. Xbox 360 owners are going to benefit a little more than Playstation 3 owners with the online multiplayer modes including the cool addition of Virtua Tennis TV. Virtua Tennis 3 has a few minor issues that can easily be overlooked given the accessible gameplay and fun factor. Virtua Tennis 3 is a must have for Tennis fans, or gamers looking for a simple sports game to occupy their time.