It has been over five years since Sega published Virtua Tennis 2 for Dreamcast console. Now the newest addition, Virtua Tennis 3, has finally arrived to Xbox 360 to challenge the reigning tennis game champion Top Spin.
The game has been played with a debug console and unfortunately we couldnt include the online features in this review. Thus the review focuses on the single player mode.
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The basic control mechanism is well-balanced and easy to learn allowing the gamer to immerse himself into the world of tennis quite easily. The basic functions take only a few minutes to learn. The player is endowed with a varying arsenal of strokes. Forehand and backhand drives are executed based on your position in relation to the ball. The longer you press the stroke button, the harder the player will hit the ball. The controls feel almost arcade-like in their simplicity. Combine this with a game that strives for realism and you get an ambitious combination. I think it actually works even though it is far from perfect.
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The single player campaign kicks off with character creation that is far simpler than in many other games. There are only a few parameters to be set and in the end they dont matter very much. Choosing your playing style is the only setting that really matters.
Your goal is to rise from a backyard amateur to a professional showing off his skills in the Grand Slam tournaments. To achieve this goal you must wade through a selection of smaller tournaments and increase your ranking. Playing tournaments isnt enough; you also have to practice to improve the stats of the character youre playing with. This is done by playing mini-games that, for example, develop your serve or improve your footwork. At first, the mini-games seem innovative and fun, but after few hours of gameplay they begin to feel monotonous and boring. An alternate way to improve your tennis skills is to train with a virtual coach at the Tennis Academy.
Youre also endowed with a special Stamina gauge that displays your endurance. If the gauge is getting empty, youd better get your tennis player to unwind by either going for a relaxing holiday or by making him enjoy a bottle of energy drink, the unhealthy way to go.
As your career progresses, youll be facing a variety of licensed professional tennis players: 13 men and 7 women. Its kind of hard to create an image of a slowly progressing tennis career when youre playing against pros like Roger Federer or Maria Sharapova at the very first steps of your career. A more functional way would have been to implement the genuine ATP ranking with top 300 tennis players. The difficulty levels progress rapidly and force you to really work on your tactics.
There is no tutorial in Virtua Tennis. You have to learn by playing the campaign and the mini-games. You can also play separate matches in addition to the career campaign.
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Dont expect the game to blow you away with awesome graphics, because it wont. The characters have a plastic feel to them and Xbox 360s power has not been utilized to its fullest. The character animations are functional, but not nearly as smooth as they could be.
The biggest annoyance in Virtua Tennis is the music. The trivial background tunes really get on your nerves and you find yourself wishing you were listening to the Eurovision song contestants instead. In other words, be glad you have the option to turn the music off.
All in all Virtua Tennis 3 is a carefully made, entertaining gaming experience for tennis fans, even though it doesnt really offer anything new and exciting. The career mode is a good try at giving the single player mode more purpose and it is a good try for a tennis game. This is also a good game for short virtual tennis sessions with your friends. Online multiplayer will undoubtedly expand the lifespan of Virtua Tennis. If you are a fan of balls and racquets, I suggest you also try Top Spin 2 by 2K Sports and Table Tennis by Rockstar.