Virtua Tennis 3 Review
To me, tennis games have come and gone. I've played them all, and few have captured my attention like Sega's Virtua Tennis. Along with Crazy Taxi, it was the other reason why I wanted a Dreamcast in the first place (yes, Soul Calibur didn't interest me that much). Immediate four-player access brought on the good times, and the single-player was absolutely addictive. At the time, Virtua Tennis may have been the most addictive title next to Tony Hawk. Soon enough, after Sega's fold, we saw Virtua Tennis arrive on the PS2 in the form of Sega Sports Tennis, and much later on it would appear on the PSP as Virtua Tennis: World Tour. Now, the official release of the third Virtua Tennis title is finally here...and I'm impressed.
The game continues to feature its traditional gameplay formula, but at the same time, it still retains quite a bit of realism so as to not make the gameplay overly exaggerated. If you've played the previous Virtua Tennis games, you'll be very happy to know that VT3 has seen fixes that have plagued the originals. Most importantly, the game controls and plays a lot smoother, as opposed to previous iterations. Running around and hitting is performed better, thanks to the game's new animations which help keep the action feeling proper at all times. In comparison to Virtua Tennis: World Tour, Virtua Tennis 3 definitely feels better. Likewise, controlling the game on the PSP is never a problematic task. Most importantly, VT3 controls a lot like the games before it, so you're going to feel right at home as soon as you pick up the game.
You still have three kinds of hits (top spin, slice, lob), and you still aim the ball with your directional buttons. What you need to know is that the primary gameplay functions have remained identical, so the game stays true to its original formula. You'll have a number of modes to choose from, and a plethora of mini-games to play. Exhibition matches are self-explanatory; there you can play singles or doubles and up to 4 players can compete. Tournament lets you take one of the game's pros (or even your custom player) and play through 4 Grand Slam tournaments, likewise you can play this in single or doubles (two player co-op).
The World Tour is the main component of the game. Here you'll create a custom character, setup his playing traits, customize his overall appearance, and then set when you want your home location to be. In comparison to the PS3 version, the PSP's player creation proccess is dumbed down and not nearly as precise. Regardless, your created player will need a lot of practice in order to move up the game's ranks, so that's where the mini-games and tennis academy come in. All of your leveling up will be done in those two parts of the World Tour mode. The more experienced you get, the harder the mini-games and challenges become.
You'll also have to rest in order to replenish strength, so be careful not to injure your athlete. When you win tournaments, you'll win prizes, like new equipment, such as better rackets and new clothing. Honestly, to me the biggest reward in World Tour is climbing the ranks and increasing my player's abilities, and many of you may feel the very same way. If you've played the original PSP Virtua Tennis, you'll rememer how clunky and slow the World Tour mode - all it did was load. Thankfully, the loading times have been eliminated, and the loading time for each match has been greatly reduced.
Multiplayer has always been Virtua Tennis' strongest aspect, but you'll be disappointed to know that VT3 only supports 4 players via Ad-Hoc/LAN, as opposed to infrastructure/online. The Xbox 360 version is the only version which has both online and offline multiplayer, unfortunately. As mentioned before, you do have a co-op option in the tournament mode, but you'll quickly find yourself missing and wishing for online. The mini-games, in the PSP version can be played solo off the bat, where as the PS3 version requires a second-player. What's impressive is that, for the most part, the PSP version of VT3 play nearly identical to that of the console versions.
Visually, I was surprised to see chnages made to the game over Virtua Tennis: World Tour. Players are fairly detailed, sporting decent improvements over the original VT: World Tour. Each player looks quite good, and is easily recognizeable, considering the platform the game is on. In fact, the PSP's VT3 does sport some pretty solid facial detail. The game is perfectly consistent, as the framerate never chugs and maintains a steady 30 frames per second. One of the most impressive aspects of the console editions is their animation. I was worried that Sega would recycle the animations from World Tour, but thankfully they didn't. VT3 features a ton of new animation strands, which sets it apart from VT: World Tour.
The stadiums are now more crowded, feature more objects present, and feel more alive altogether. But there are some noticeable problems. The lighting has been toned down. Instead of shadows from four different light sources surrounding the player and the ball, there is only one shadow cast per object. Additionally, the game has some clipping issues, where billboards and advertisements on the walls of the stadium flicker non-stop. Lastly, the crowd is basically one enormous mush of bad, but it's okay since you don't really see them that often anyways. Overall, there are some faults with the graphics, but this is the PSP and not the PS3. The picture is clean, and the game animates smoothly - and that's what counts.
Besides multiplayer, the weakest aspect of Virtua Tennis 3 is its audio. Just like the console versions, the soundtrack consists of annoyingly bad arcade rock music that only serves as a disservice to the game. The first thing I did was turn the music way down, because I simply couldn't tolerate it for more than one match. Secondly, the sound effects of the sneakers against tarmac, grass, and other patch types, is absolutely terrible; the effects sound cheap and generic. On top of that, when the players moan and groan during a hit, they're way too loud.
Instead of having the voices of the athletes echo and reverb throughout the stadium, like a TV match, they just come out of your speaker instead. Sega took the lazy route; when you play, it sounds as if the players are stuck in your speakers; hearing the groans coming right out of your speakers becomes a little annoying after a while -- why Sega didn't make them sound like they were coming from a stadium setting, I don't know. The only decent things about Virtua Tennis 3's sound are the announcers, the crowd, and the hit effects - that's it. The sound is definitely disappointing.
At the end of the day, Virtua Tennis 3 does exactly what you expect it to do. It boasts the same addictive gameplay and an instantly accessible control scheme that makes it a welcoming title for all. Those who own a PS3 and Xbox 360 are better off with the X360 version, as it features online multiplayer. But there is only one handheld version to go with, and thankfully it's a solid one. Even with the experience being limited to four-player offline, Virtua Tennis fans definitely owe it to themselves to play VT3. And yes, while the sound is also very lackluster, the rest of the package is far too addictive to miss out on. If you're looking for a long-lasting game that you can constantly come back to, Virtua Tennis 3 is it.
4/16/2007 Arnold Katayev