What's nice about Virtua Tennis 3 is that it feels fair right from the get-go. You will notice a gradual increase in the difficulty as you play through the World Tour, but it's never so bad that you feel like you hit a wall. Early on you'll be participating in events that are meant for people in the 300 rank, so the opponents will be easily confused and never very powerful. This is a great way of learning how to control your character and earning some quick rank points. As you increase your rank you will be able to participate in the 204 tournaments, then the 100 tournaments, the 56 tournaments and ultimately the elite 16 events. By the time you make it to the top 16 players you will need to have your stats pretty high and your skills down if you want to stand a chance, but thanks to the gradual increase in difficulty you should be ready when that time comes.
While it's true that you start out ranked 300, there aren't actually 299 other pro tennis stars to play against. Regardless of which division you play in (be it male or female), you will only be going up against a dozen or so different tennis players. This means that you will have to play these characters dozens of times before you are the best in the world, which is kind of disappointing considering how easy it would have been for them to develop some custom made characters for you to go up against. The good news is that you'll recognize most of the tennis pros in this game (even if you're like me and not into watching tennis). You will be going up against Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Venus Williams, Martina Hingis, and of course Maria Sharapova.
From time to time you will have a chance to play mixed doubles, which means that you will finally be given a chance to play with somebody of the opposite sex. Early on this makes your life a lot easier, I found that when it came to the 200 - 300 tournaments having a partner at my side made my playing a lot better. But as you near that coveted first place slot you'll find that a partner just gets in the way. There were a couple of tournaments that I lost because my partner kept hitting the ball too hard and making it land out of bounds, which there was nothing I could do about. After they did that four times in a row I felt like I should just put the control down and not even try. Thankfully if you find this happening you can always skip those events and just focus on the one versus one battles.
One new aspect to this World Tour mode is that you now have a stamina meter, which will decrease as you play in tournaments, try the various mini-games and whatnot. If your stamina bar gets too low then you will get injured and have to sit out for a few weeks. The good thing is that you can miss a day by resting at home, miss a couple of weeks by taking a much-needed vacation, or try your luck with an energy drink (which allows you to not miss any time). While this is a novel idea, it doesn't really play that heavily in the tour. Even if you get injured it doesn't seem like it's that big of a deal, you have more than enough time to get everything done that you want to do.
Beyond the World Tour are a few other modes that will keep you busy playing Virtua Tennis 3 for a long time to come. If you want to go up against a bunch of tennis pros but don't want to deal with the story aspect of the World Tour then there's always the Tournament mode, as well as the Exhibition mode. You can also play a number of multiplayer mini-games in the Courts mode, including a various of bowling and curling. Perhaps the most exciting part of Virtua Tennis 3 is the online mode, which offers just about everything you could want from an online tennis game. It's easy to get into a quick game and you are finally able to play with three other people in a two on two event. If you just want to watch other people play then there's something called the VT TV, which reminds me a lot of the TV mode in Project Gotham Racing 3.
Virtual Tennis 3 made waves when it was announced because it was set to be one of the first Xbox 360 games to feature a 1080p mode, something that we rarely see in current video games. While that's all well and good, the graphics here aren't nearly as spectacular as you might expect. Don't get me wrong, Virtua Tennis 3 is a fantastic looking game full of small details and solid character designs, but this is not the type of thing that is going to blow you away. There are some nice details that will make you sit up and take notice, including some beautiful courts to play on, great lighting, and a lot of spectators that are moving about and acting in a realistic manner. But it's also hard to be really impressed with the graphics when everything is so small. I'm certainly not suggesting that we need giant Gears of War graphics or anything, but if it wasn't for the high def support you might not notice much of a difference between this and other recent tennis games.
The music is also pretty bad. While I'm sure there are people out there that love the cheesy guitar tunes, I personally can't stand it (and ended up just turning it off completely). Thankfully every other sound in Virtua Tennis 3 is spot on, including the voices/grunts, racket sounds and the roar of the crowds. There's little denying that the ambience really adds to the realism of the game.
When it comes right down to it, Virtua Tennis 3 is just a great playing game of tennis. It's an easy game to get into that offers plenty of single player and multiplayer content to enjoy. Fans of the series won't find anything here that is completely new or original, but it has been a good five years since the last game and few will argue that this version is worth it for the phenomenal online modes. Even if you're not the type that usually enjoys following tennis there's something that almost anybody can get into in Sega's next-gen sports sim. I just hope that Virtua Tennis 4 proves to be more of an evolutionary step up, not a step sideways like this game.
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While it's easy to criticize this game for not being very different from past entries, Virtua Tennis 3 proves to be just as much fun as it ever was. With fantastic online support, an engaging single player mode and some entertaining mini-games, Sega's next-gen tennis game will turn you into a tennis fan!
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