Sega has always produced some relatively solid tennis titles throughout the years. Most likely than not, you’ve heard some of Sega’s past offering—such as Sega Professional Tennis and Sega Sports Tennis—but they didn’t quite deliver that satisfying feeling that fans were hunger for. Hence Sega went back to its roots to revive a classic hit, which was one of Dreamcast’s platinum collections, Virtua Tennis. Two generation consoles later, we have a brand new legacy in the making, namely Virtua Tennis 3. The game certainly astounded us with its point-and-click gameplay and locked us in with its lineup of addictive mini-games. Getting the swing mechanics down might take some experimentation though. The reason is that each character has a specific playing style, and it’s just a matter of finding your niche.
The game features a massive career mode, a tournament of mixed singles and doubles, a standard online option, and a bunch of wild and wacky challenges where up to four of your friends can participate. In a career mode (also known as World Tour), it’s much like any other tennis game that came before it—you create a character, upgrade the athletic skills, win a number of matches, improve your rank, and receive sponsored prizes along the way. The prizes aren’t as plentiful as we would have hoped for, and they don’t pop up as often as you would like to. Sure, you get the usual perks of becoming a tennis pro—the sleek sunglasses, top of the line shoes, stylish clothes—but the only prize worth having is the tennis rackets. They are the only items that actually have strong influence on the gameplay.
The training sessions are just one of the exciting aspects of World Tour. These sessions include a series of fruit-collecting, drum-toppling, pin-knocking mini-games. Did we also mention fighting off orb-shooting aliens and bashing numbers on bingo? Well, you will definitely get a piece of those actions when you play World Tour. There is also a training academy designed to test your reflexes and enhance techniques. Each exercise has a specific objective to complete such as scoring a point behind the baseline, win a match through volley only, and achieve a point only through lobs. Of course, you are awarded with a medal depending on the performance of your work out. Your stamina diminishes as you train and go about your tours. Injuries are most prevalent when your stamina is dangerously low.
You can refill your stamina with an energy drink and not lose any time, but this increases your risk of getting hurt. So take our advice, take the “week off” option. The whole career scene is a very entertaining one; once you get the right balance between hitting the ball and anticipation, the game becomes rather engaging. The matches are quick at first but they get longer as the competition get more prestigious. You start on Challenger series, and then work your way up through the Advance series; eventually you open up expert matches. Once you hit the rank of 55 in the world, you can finally enter the grand slams. Creating a character in Virtua Tennis 3 is interesting but limited in the particulars. It gives you freedom to be as hip or funky as you can be; but this feature could use additional personal accessories and facial modifications.
For starters, you are given a relatively low assortment of ethnic skin colors and slapped with a small lineup of physical adjustments (such as height, weight, various court gestures, signature serve, and hair types). For the finishing touches, you get a respectable fashion statement, ranging from a handful of tennis-oriented garments to sports gears. While the creation process is far from being sophisticated, it still delivers a solid character composition. This feature does its job for now but we will definitely expect more character developments in the future installments. In the gameplay department, Virtua Tennis 3 plays incredibly smooth and easy to pick up; however, there are some inconsistencies with volleying and lobs. Starting with the volleys, when you’re getting ready to put away the ball, you’re suppose to sock it with a lot of power; instead the ball bounce off the racket softly, giving your opponent a chance not only to return the ball but also regain his footing. It’s very unrealistic action sequence!
As for lobs, they are rather unsuccessful against computer opponents who are expert “lobbyists”. They rarely lose their balance and seem to always know where the right spot to return the ball uncontested! Fortunately, the controls are responsive enough that allows you adequate time to react. From the animation standpoint, the game runs extremely smooth. The action is fluid and continuous except when loading a replay, which is when the game begins to slow down. Needless to say, the nice thing about the animation is the attention and number of little touches added to it: the MPH radar on the wall, referees adjusting in their seats, and the ball-boy running by the net to pick up on the fault serving. Graphically, this is perhaps the most refined version of Virtua Tennis yet. The game features colorful, vibrant locations, from Spain and China to England and Australia where the courts boast incredible details.
You’ll be playing on various surfaces including grass, clay, and hard courts. You’ll play night and day as well as indoors and outdoors. Thanks to the great visuals, you’ll instantly recognize famous tennis superstars such as James Blake, Lindsey Davenport, Roger Federer, and Maria Sharapova. Some of the players though are less defined and somewhat blotchy, but for the most part there is a distinct resemblance. One of the best things about the presentation is that the way characters imitate their real counterparts. You’ll see Andy Roddick’s signature serve and Venus Williams’ devastating forehand. We had an absolute blast playing the multiplayer portion of Virtua Tennis 3; not only did we enjoy its mini-games but also its tournament mode. It’s great having the option to play co-op and mixed doubles in tournament mode, unlike other tennis games out there that only forces you to play against each other.
When it comes to the audio component, the sound effects are too soft. The sound of tennis ball upon impact doesn’t quite produce that shift in weight and power delivered by a monstrous 6 foot 2 player. Also, the crowd rarely reacts to great plays. Except for player grunts, there is hardly any voice-over work. Needless to say, Virtua Tennis 3 is definitely one of the sports games to get for the Xbox 360. It’s easy to pick up and long time fans will surely appreciate how the gameplay remains intact. The presentation is awesome but the sound component could use more weight to bring about realistic on-court sequences. You have a career mode that is very entertaining as well as tournament modes that are engaging. While the create-a-player feature isn’t the best among tennis games, you can still cough up a funky appearance here. Virtua Tennis 3 has kept some of its old school piquancy and that’s why you’ll be plugging in lots of hours especially when playing the mini-games. Overall, Virtua Tennis is a solid tennis title and one you shouldn’t be left without.