The second serving of tennis on the Xbox 360 is upon us in the form of Sega’s Virtua Tennis 3. After last year’s Top Spin 2, what does Virtua Tennis 3 bring to the court and will it serve up any aces? With the Virtua Tennis series considered by most to be the definitive series of the tennis genre, Sega have it all to live up to and following the recently released demo, opinions so far have been divided.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Virtua Tennis began life as an arcade title in 1999. The original Virtua Tennis was made available on Dreamcast and Windows PC and the sequel, Virtua Tennis 2, was available on both Dreamcast and Playstation 2. Fans of the series and tennis lovers alike have held the games in high esteem and to this day many of them hold onto their Dreamcast in order to obtain their Virtua Tennis thrills.
Luckily for them, SEGA has stepped forward and brought the series into the next generation in the form of Virtua Tennis 3 on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The winning formula for Virtua Tennis has always been its ability to offer pick up and play gameplay that appeals to the masses. Offering a simple, fast, exciting and thoroughly enjoyable experience, Virtua Tennis 3 has all the ingredients of old coupled with a few new offerings of its own.
Before delving deeper into the game it must be pointed out that Virtua Tennis 3 is not a revolution of the tennis genre. In fact, to call it an evolution may even be stretching it. It’s more of a step or two forward. Those seeking innovation and a tennis game redefined won’t find it here. As the sport itself hasn’t changed much over the last 10 years, neither has the game. The principles that apply in real life are as true today as they were back then, you essentially hit a ball across a court and over a net to one another. However, that simple process has always been a lot of fun and is still as fun as ever.
If youâ€™ve experienced Virtua Tennis in the past, youâ€™ll be almost instantly familiar with the look and feel of Virtua Tennis 3. The career mode, although expanded, offers more of the same and is presented in a near identical manner to that of Virtua Tennis 2. Likewise, the controls havenâ€™t been revolutionised either, your A button will offer you the all important top spin shot and youâ€™ll be using it more often than not. Should you feel adventurous, the slice (X/B) and lob (Y) buttons are available should the situation warrant them. Serving too behaves exactly as youâ€™d expect in a tennis game, you hit a button once to display your serve gauge and hitting a button a second time will perform the serve with the power dependant on your timing.
An area of easily noticeable improvements is of course the gameâ€™s visuals. Virtua Tennis 3 is in my estimation the best looking tennis game to date. It offers vibrant and colourful courts upon which to play and combined with the silky player animations, tennis has never looked so good. As with the visuals, the sounds are also impressive. The joy of hitting a smash is accompanied by an unforgiving thwack and only adds to the enjoyment. The crowd, multi-lingual umpires and player sound effects all combine to provide a satisfying audio environment. The same however canâ€™t be said about the music. An arcade game this may be, but the frantic relentlessness of the accompanying soundtrack is as likely to cause a headache as it is to get your adrenaline pumping. Itâ€™s moments like these where you welcome the 360â€™s ability to replace any game music with that of your own.
The gameplay itself provides a sense of familiarity and is easily accessible to most. If you dig a little deeper however youâ€™ll soon notice that the gameplay has changed significantly in one aspect. Virtua Tennis games of old focused on power and precision, as soon as an opponent had returned a ball to you, youâ€™d immediately get your finger on your own button and start charging up your return. In Virtua Tennis 3, the focus is now on power, precision and position. Positioning is a big factor in Virtua Tennis 3 and will ultimately determine your ability on the court. Trying to charge up your return at the nearest opportunity will often result in your player making a dive to reach the ball, an experience that becomes increasingly frustrating until you learn to home in on your skills. In Virtua Tennis 3 it is key that you attempt to anticipate your opponents return, doing so successfully will allow you to predict where the ball will land, get yourself into position and then, and only then, charge up your own return. A process which certainly takes a bit of practise but proves to be mighty rewarding when you hit the ball just right and hear your player grunt in appreciation.
The World Tour is the main focus of Virtua Tennis 3â€™s single player offering. After creating your own character you begin your career and have the ability to enter competitions all around the world and whilst youâ€™re at it, you can visit the training academy or play mini games to enhance your skills and attributes. Though the player creation facility is fun and reasonably pleasing, it doesnâ€™t quite offer the depth of player creation in other titles. After defining your name, face, head, body and outfit you set out your playing style. Your options as expected are to choose between left or right handed and then to choose your backhand style and postures.
Once your character has been created, youâ€™re presented with the World Tour Map which as with Virtua Tennis titles of old, functions as your selection screen for competitions and training activities around the globe. You begin your career ranked 299th and as you enter the tournaments currently open to you, you may find your opponents a little clumsy and all too easy to beat. Luckily that wonâ€™t be the case for long, as your rank increases to the top 200, top 100 and beyond, new tournaments will be made available to you and they soon become challenging.
It wonâ€™t be long until you realise that without plenty of training, the opponents will prove to be a challenge too big. Herein lies the training academy and mini games which will help beef up your character and improve your overall game. This particular area of the game is arguably one of the most enjoyable, though the training academy does begin at a tediously easy level, it soon opens up to become a very difficult set of tasks to accomplish within certain time restraints. If the training academy isnâ€™t for you, then youâ€™re more than likely to do most of your training at the selection of mini games which are quite simply a delight to play. My personal favourite is Avalanche, a giant slope in front of which you must evade the giant balls rolling down it whilst collecting small pieces of fruit. Not your everyday tennis training method but a delightful one nonetheless. Also worthy of a mention is Alien Attack, literally a game of Space Invaders on a tennis court.
An area of training that does show true ingenuity is that of your playing style. When partaking in the various training academy sessions or mini games, Virtua Tennis 3 will monitor your style of play and take note of your choice of shots. If you happen to be a player focussing on power and use your commanding forehand at every opportunity, youâ€™ll soon notice that only your forehand is progressing in terms of power, angle and control. Unless you use it, your backhand will then remain undeveloped and your player will ultimately become skilled in the areas that suit your playing style.
Although the Competitions, Training Academy and Mini Games provide a lot of entertainment and will certainly keep you occupied for weeks, if not months, they are interrupted by a stamina system which does little more than frustrate. After taking part in a certain amount of activities, your player will be low on stamina and youâ€™ll need to choose to take a rest in order to recover. Your options are to use an energy drink, spend one week at home or spend three weeks on vacation. I understand that a tennis player must get tired, but this aspect of the game proves to be nothing other than a nuisance. Regrettably, it is a feature which canâ€™t be all together ignored. Continuing to play with depleted stamina will result in injuries that can leave you sidelined for weeks and that in turn can result in the loss of some of your hard earned player attributes.
The World Tour does offer enough to keep you going on your own for quite some time, but as is true for all the great tennis titles, multiplayer is where they really shine. After playing against the AI for long enough, you soon learn the different styles of play associated with different players and eventually youâ€™ll find a way of beating them all. Thankfully, the entire single player career can be later looked upon as an introduction. In hindsight, it can simply function as one large training ground, an area for you to prepare yourself for the real challenge; other gamers. This is where Virtua Tennis 3 comes to life. Playing locally, the Exhibition mode offers single matches for 1-4 players and always proves to be a laughter filled experience. Also available are the Court Games, a collection of mini games for 2-4 players which likewise are a joy to play.
For the first time in the series you can compete online against other gamers from around the world in singles or doubles, watch the best players in the world on VT.TV and view worldwide rankings and leaderboards. It is without question the addition of online play that causes the games longevity to become almost endless. No amount of single player wins will prepare you for the thousands of players with different styles of play ready to compete against you on Xbox Live.
If you do happen to find the one on one online matches to be a little too intense and competitive, head over to the doubles matches and youâ€™ll usually find a much more fun and forgiving set of opponents. With the ability to play doubles on Xbox Live using 4 different consoles, it is almost always a riot and after making a mess of things with your partner, laughs are guaranteed to ensue. Whereas the single player will keep you occupied for weeks, if not months, the multiplayer will keep you occupied for months, if not years.
Virtua Tennis 3 is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and although it’s unlikely to blow you away in any particular aspect, it is always a joy to play and will continue to be for many months to come. Sega have by no means revolutionised the genre but they have successfully brought a much loved series to the next gen and it is as lovable as ever. It has the playability, the fun and competitive edge that any sports title should have and is a highly recommended title. Virtua Tennis 3 ranks up there alongside Rockstarâ€™s Table Tennis as one of the 360â€™s best and most enjoyable sports titles.
Final Score: 8 out of 10 - Good (How do we rate games?)