Few sports game franchises are as beloved as the Virtua Tennis series. Its debut on the Sega Dreamcast remains a hallmark for many old-school gamers, who recall its visuals, style and gameplay with an almost wistful regard. There've been a few iterations in the years since that seminal introduction, yet even as platforms and names change, the games in the series rarely stray far from the original formula that proved so successful. Virtua Tennis 3 is no exception to that rule.
For the most part, the PSP version of Virtua Tennis 3 is a winner. Make no mistake, it's classic Virtua Tennis all the way. From the menus to the minigames or the simple yet deep gameplay to the skill-building exercises, longtime fans will feel as if they're stepping into a comfortable pair of sneakers the second it boots up. The more things change, the more they stay the same; even the classic Sega-style music returns to remind you of how things used to be oh so long ago.
Between the addictive minigames, career builder, and stylish on-court play, you won't find yourself disappointed.
The visuals are mostly gorgeous, and the sound is simply tremendous. The various courts are distinctly different – grass courts show wear in the busiest parts, while clay courts get mussed after an afternoon sliding across the pliable red dust. When your opponent nails a particularly fast smash, the marks left by the ball will even remain for the rest of the match. The "thwack" of the racket hitting the ball, the court announcers speaking in the local tongue, and the roar of approval from the crowd for a winning shot are spot-on terrific. Unfortunately, some of the up close shots aren't nearly as nice, and the ball boys and line judges look like something straight out of Pink Floyd's The Wall. Not pretty.
Melting faces aside, the only real trouble is an unexplainable, momentary "hiccup" that occurs on occasion. For reasons unexplained, there's an undeniable quarter-second pause that happens sometimes when you or your opponent makes contact with the ball. It doesn't happen on every shot (if it did, the game would be virtually unplayable), but it definitely occurs on a regular basis and can seriously throw off your timing. It seems to me that it happens when you or the computer times their shot perfectly, but either way it's the only serious flaw in an otherwise superb game.
The core of the title is the World Tour mode, which in reality is more of a role-playing game than a sports title. Sure, it is tennis, after all, and there are plenty of real-world athletes you'll compete against, such as the incomparable Roger Federer, his archrival Rafael Nadal, supersexy Maria Sharapova, and Venus Williams, to name just a few. However, the real goal of the game is to become the champion of the world by winning the top Grand Slam events across the globe. To accomplish this, you build up your skills by mastering various tasks and allocating talents accordingly. You also get to create your character, dress them in all sorts of all kinds of outfits, and choose when and where to battle foes. There's seemingly more Oblivion here than Madden.
The Tour set up as a week-to-week yearly calendar, which starts you off at the lowly rank of 300th in the world. Each week, you have the chance to play a skill-building mini-game, attend the Tennis Academy, practice against another pro (once they set up an appointment), or participate in a tournament if it's scheduled. The first series of tournaments are comically simple to conquer - so easy, even a caveman could do it. You'll barely need to be competent with the shot types or serve timings to plow your way through the first 100 rankings or so. The best use of your time in the first few years is really to take advantage of as many minigames as possible to build up your skills, because once you enter the second tier of events, the challenge increases dramatically. Of course, if you're smart about allocating your powers across serves, groundstrokes, footwork, and volleys, it's doubtful you'll lose more than a few rounds here either.
The real hard work starts when you vault into the top 100 rankings and ply your trade in the second-to-the-top tournaments. By this point, the competition is fierce and you'll need to master top spin, drop shots, and lobs, not to mention develop a mastery of your serve. Winning points and matches takes patience, skill, and a bit of luck. When you do achieve victory, the sense of accomplishment is immense – that's how intense the action can be. Top-of-the-line Grand Slam tournaments are just punishing, and demand a tremendous amount of focus – and even then, there's no guarantee of success.
Even with its handful of minor flaws, Virtua Tennis 3 is a tremendous amount of fun, and a perfect travel companion in your PSP. Between the addictive minigames, career builder, and stylish on-court play, you won't find yourself disappointed. Working your way up from a playground wannabe to a world champion will be one of the most rewarding objectives you'll accomplish in quite a long time; just be prepared to invest the time to make it happen. It's worth it.
Discuss this article in our forums