There's something to be said about not having your sports franchise released every year. While Electronic Arts and 2K Sports seem perfectly content with having you purchase a new football or basketball game every year, Sega has taken a different route for their tennis simulators. The last time we experienced a console Virtua Tennis was back in 2002 under the name Sega Sports Tennis. Here we are five years later and we're finally being treated to the first "next generation" Virtua Tennis game. It's full of great online game play, an exciting world tour mode, and significantly improved graphics. Unfortunately the game play remains the same and fans of the series will probably feel like they've done most of this stuff before. Thankfully it's all still a lot of fun and definitely worth your time.
The brilliance of Virtua Tennis 3 is that it has a way of turning non-sports fans into tennis addicts. I wouldn't call myself much of a sports simulator person, I generally shy away from the Madden's, NBA 2K games, and all of the other super serious sports fare. But there's something about the Virtua Tennis games that keep me wanting more, even though I'm not much of a tennis enthusiast. There's just something about the high speed game play that keeps me glued to my TV set, and it's even better when you're playing against other people that are just as into it as you are. Virtua Tennis has always been that game I've been able to use to get non-sports fans into tennis games, and I think that speaks volumes for the amazing game design that goes into these kinds of games.
The control in Virtua Tennis 3 is simple; this is not the kind of game where new players will be struggling to understand what is going on. You basically have three buttons, a top spin button (that hits the ball hard in a straight line), a slice button (that is slower but gives you more control over the direction), and a lob button (which goes straight over your opponent's head). That's it. The rest of the controls center around learning when to use these different strokes and how to get the most strength out of them. This is ultimately what makes Virtua Tennis 3 so easy to pick up and play, it takes only a few minutes to figure out exactly how to play and then you'll be slamming the ball with the best of them.
The meat and potatoes of Virtua Tennis 3 is the World Tour mode, a RPG-like single player campaign that has you going from zero to hero in the course of twenty years. In the World Tour mode you start out ranked 300, which is pretty much the lowest you could possibly go. From there it's up to you to not only improve your standings, but also improve your various skills and earn all kinds of special equipment for your player. What's nice about this mode is that it gives you some control over your career, so it's not just one tennis match after another.
Even before you jump into the World Tour mode you will have a chance to choose a male or female character and then customize them in any way you want. Once you've done that it's off to the races as you tackle other tennis pros and improve your skills at the various mini-games. Each month of the World Tour is made up of four weeks, with each week usually hosting some sort of tournament or practice event. You can choose to jump into these tournaments (assuming you are ranked high enough), or you can navigate around the world having fun with the skill-improving mini-games.
The mini-games are a lot like what we've seen in the past, they are here to help your serving, your stroke, your footwork or your volleying. In total there are twelve different mini-games, each with six different levels of difficulty. Some of the better examples include a weird game of bowling where you serve a giant ball into the ten pins (ultimately trying to get a strike), dodging giant tennis balls trying to collect fruit, and this strange game of shuffle board where you hit your ball into enormous disks pushing them into numbered zones. Some of the other noteworthy mini-games include an event where you're hitting your ball back and forth against large balloons, a strange game of bingo where you have to hit the right numbers in order to line up three in a row, and a game where you are trying to keep small alligators away from eating the meat. None of the mini-games are bad, but you will definitely look forward to doing some more than others. In total, each of these mini-games won't last you more than a minute, and then you're back to the grind of tournaments and practice events.
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