Sega are back with their latest iteration of the Virtua Tennis series namely Virtua Tennis 3 in which gamers can live out their tennis fantasies with a touch of arcade flavour thrown in. However as with all sports related titles it is rather tough coming up with new ideas considering the basic portrayal of the sport has to remain faithful. So with Virtua Tennis 3 Sega have managed to provide a visceral arcade tennis experience coupled with a whole host of extras that will keep fans of the sport well entertained. The question one has to ask is does it work and as a tennis game does it provide the necessary ingredients to keep gamers hooked especially with the likes of Top Spin 2 already garnering success on the Xbox 360 platform.
To begin, players are presented with a few options which include the World Tour, Exhibition, Court Games and Tournament modes; not forgetting an option for Xbox Live play. Exhibition is pretty standard fare where players can choose either single or doubles matches and then pick either a male or female tennis star from the likes of Henman, Sharapova, Hingis and Roddick to name but a few. Tournament is similar but with the aim of beating the various players in regional matches until reaching the final stage to claim glory. Scores are decided on winnings from the rounds and then entered into a leader-board at the end.
Court games are more unique in that they are mini games related to the game of tennis. So for example if we take the Pin Crusher game; this is the same as ten pin bowling except with the use of a tennis racket and ball rather than an actual bowling ball. The other games are all variations on hitting the ball at targets or avoiding obstacles with nifty footwork. The court games are very different from playing tennis proper and are a welcome distraction, especially as you can go versus with up to 4 human opponents to see who’s boss. Sadly there is no option to take your skills online or to battle versus the computer for practice.
The main portion of the single player game lies in the World Tour mode in which gamers can custom build their own superstar from either a male or female template. Whilst the create a character isn’t as in depth as other games it does provide enough freedom to add a personal touch to proceedings. Once a player has been created gamers can then enter the world tour circuit which comprises of various options. To begin, the player created character starts out with pretty poor stats and so the main focus should be to start building them up. To do this, from the globe map screen select one of the mini game icons of which each court game builds various attributes if you are successful. So as an example, partaking in the Pin Crusher game will help raise your serving stats.
The World Tour mode isn’t infinite in that you follow the career of your player over a number of years. So within that time it’s up to the player how they choose to progress. With a flick of the right bumper reveals a calendar of events and tournaments (graded based on rank). Obviously you’ll have to make rank before being allowed to enter some of the tournaments. Each event including the training court games takes one week out of your time and so players will have to balance training, resting and taking part in events. Along the way players will be given messages from a coach offering advice to admin awarding you new equipment when certain conditions are fulfilled. It’s all very straight forward and easy to manage and I must say is user friendly.
As you would expect the tournaments start out pretty standard with opponents who are easily beaten versus a competent human adversary. Once the players rank reaches around the 100 mark do things start getting a little more difficult. However if you’ve spent a lot of time raising stats rather than playing in tournaments then the difficulty might seem a lot less. In a nut shell the game encourages you to raise stats rather than try and beat tougher opponents with the onus on returning to the same tournament in the following year. What is perhaps a little annoying as far as the AI is concerned is the fact that it feels like your character starts off a match pretty strong with a good chance of success. However, all of a sudden your character will start feeling sluggish and fatigued making a victory seem like a distant dream rather than a reality. It’s not very balanced and somewhat feels like the game is needlessly punishing you for progressing too quickly. No doubt this feature will annoy some players who might have the know how for victory but the game simply lets you down due to the un-balanced nature of the player character losing ability mid game.
Virtua Tennis 3 does look pretty sharp and with some decent likenesses being utilised makes the experience pleasing on the eye. There are some funny moments especially when said characters produce a nice set of teeth to accompany a winning smile. Animations are very good and the general ambience of the courts is spot on whether that is the grass courts at Wimbledon to the clay courts of the French Open. One thing that lets the game down are the spectators which look a little on the blocky side close up; that said you don’t really notice this during play. Every thing else is very smooth and with little going on bar the movement of two players and a ball is fluid and consistent. I did notice some stuttering on occasion but this only really occurred during doubles matches after a point had been won.
Sound is a pretty tough one to judge here as Virtua Tennis 3 does sit firmly in the arcade bracket as opposed to full on simulation. Therefore someone decided to add a funky or perhaps not so funky sound track to accompany the games. For purists the music might annoy although the choice of tunes available makes this more a reality than anything else. Luckily you can opt to use your own music should you desire or for a more lifelike experience, turn it off altogether.
The general ambience of the court in terms of sound is reasonable although in my opinion could have been a lot better; especially as you hear the same sound samples used over and over. It’s also a shame that the commentator for games set in Wimbledon have an American voice over rather than the distinctive British accent you’d expect.
Sadly none of the tennis stars have voices other than the odd grunt or groan during matches. So when you are presented with a scene where they talk to your character you are left with text only with the star simply moving their lips; which looks rather odd especially as they continue to seemingly talk after uttering a simple sentence of a few words.
Virtua Tennis 3 offers a fairly lengthy single player experience as you rack up hours playing through the World Tour mode. There are several slots available for game saves and obviously playing as a male compared to a female will offer a slightly different playing experience. Considering each player character can have strengths in various areas means that no two characters should be the same especially if you focus on specific skills for your character as opposed to making them an all rounder.
The Xbox Live options are pretty standard and offer tournaments to single one off ranked or unranked matches. In my experience these were pretty fluid although some lag was encountered where often the opponent appeared where he or she wasn’t. This resulted in many occasions where I felt a winning point coming on only to find my opponent right on top of the ball returning it to me.
In general there is a reasonable amount to do in Virtua Tennis 3 although to gripe the court games should have been available for Xbox Live play and seems somewhat of an unusual omission.
Virtua Tennis 3 is a decent tennis game offering arcade thrills coupled with the ambience of real tennis which works a treat. The mini games are a welcome addition to the package and break up playing in matches over and over. The character development side of things is impressive and with the control you have here makes building up a superstar quite rewarding. There could have been more real life stars added to the roster of those available but I guess you can’t have it all. What I found is Virtua Tennis 3 to be a very easy game to get into, with simple controls and easy navigation through its clean menus; beginners aren’t punished from offset. Other than the issues I had with the game’s AI (more so when a cpu opponent suddenly becomes godlike) in the latter stages of the World Tour the general feeling of tennis is captured well and so has to be commended on this front. If you’ve never played a tennis game before and are looking for something different to play then Virtua Tennis 3 is well worth a look for its ease of use. For more die hard tennis players then Virtua Tennis 3 offers a good test of skills both on and offline although might lack some of the depth of other tennis titles.