Virtua Tennis 3

There’s been a stigma surrounding Sega as of late. Despite the fact that it still makes very good games, people seem to be under the impression that it has awkwardly fallen from grace. Virtua Tennis 3 is here to remind those people that this simply isn’t true.

Once one of the jewels in the crown of the Dreamcast, the Virtua Tennis series has now made a glorious return and has served up an ace. (That’s two tennis puns in one sentence, in case you weren’t paying attention.) Sure, it’s not a deep and complicated tennis simulator like Top Spin – it was an arcade game, after all. However, it is one of the most accessible and addictive sports games ever created – and with a surprising amount of depth.

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Virtua Tennis 3 is viewed from a 3/4 perspective, which is refreshing after the ridiculous camera angle that was used in Top Spin 2. The game only uses three buttons and the left analogue stick, with various button-stick combinations executing the various possible shots. The simplicity of such a scheme coupled with the friendly camera angle means that players are able to focus on tactics, rather than the controller.

That’s not to say that this is a realistic tennis game. Despite the inclusion of 20 or so tennis celebrities, this game is an arcade game, and it plays like one. Players will find themselves hitting the ball down the line and across the court with few unforced errors. The result is that most serves are followed by lengthy rallies. However, given that strong tactics will win at the end of the day, every point feels earned. It’s a satisfying feeling to win a match in Virtua Tennis 3.

Outside of the actual game of tennis – which can be played with up to four players, natch – Virtua Tennis 3 also offers the wide variety of modes that one would expect from a sports game. For starters, there are exhibition matches, tournaments, and a world tour mode. The latter is especially lengthy and satisfying.

Players will create a custom character – and unlock an achievement – and take them from rank 300 to rank 1 by competing in a range of tournaments. However, you can’t enter every tournament from the beginning, so you’ll need to train while waiting for something your level. You’ll be able to increase your stats by going to the training academy or by completing a range of minigames.

It is with these minigames that Virtua Tennis 3 demonstrates its arcade roots full of classic Sega cheese. You’ll perfect your serves by smashing a giant tennis ball into some bowling pins; hit balls into fans to repel toy crocodiles from eating toy meat; use your tennis balls to fend off an alien invasion; and avoid giant, tumbling tennis balls as you collect large pieces of fruit. This truly is a classic arcade Sega game.

Although these minigames sound ridiculous – okay, they are ridiculous, but they’re also a lot of fun. They’re not going to win over dry, conservative fans of the sport, but these games certainly bring a smile to the face. They’re so much fun, in fact, that Sega has included a special mode where you can compete in them with up to four friends.

You won’t be able to increase your rank by playing them, but you will increase your various stats. Consequently, you’ll have an easier time crushing your opponents in the tournaments. Until you reach rank 150, that is. Suddenly, Hingis and Nadal will stop acting like rookie players and will start to pull out all the stops. Rather than crushing opponents 40-Love, there’s an extremely high chance they’ll break your service. At this point, victory becomes even sweeter.

When you’re done playing the computer, you’ll want to try your skills against human competition. While Virtua Tennis 3 is certainly a blast with three friends in the same room, the Xbox 360 game offers an exclusive online mode. You’ll be able to play against a variety of worldwide opponents and, just like in real tennis, increase your rank by defeating all opponents in a variety of tournaments. There’s even a spectator mode called VT.TV where you can watch other players competing!

Although the addictive gameplay is the best feature of Virtua Tennis 3, it’s no slouch in the technical department either. The game is the first Xbox 360 game to boast a native 1080p resolution. While few Kiwis are likely to have a TV capable of running at such a resolution, the game still looks decent in 720p. The game is, however, 60Hz only. I'd say it's a shame, but if it's a problem for you, it's probably more of a shame that you've got a $700 console but don't have a TV from the last decade.

Some of the character models in the game can look pretty bad – Mauresmo already looked like a man, but there’s no reason for the beautiful Martina Hingis to look like one – but on the whole the game looks pretty good. The framerate is consistent, except for a few doubles matches, and the game makes use of impressive lighting effects. It doesn’t look amazing, but it looks good enough.

The music, on the other hand, is definitely going to piss off some people. It’s the typical Sega-rock we’ve come to expect from just about every in-house title. While it’s no Magical Sound Shower, it’s not terrible. Some people, including myself, will like it; others will loathe it. Whatever your feelings, you can always turn it off and replace it with a custom soundtrack thanks to the built-in feature of the Xbox 360.

The sound effects, on the other hand, are fantastic. The popping of the ball, the grunts of the players – even the umpires speak in the corresponding language of the country in which you are playing.

Achievement whores will be pleased to know that this game contains 50 achievements of varying levels of difficulty. Some are obtained for simply watching a match on VT.TV, while others are awarded for hitting five consecutive MAX serves: no small feat. There’s certainly enough to encourage you to carry on playing the game, as if the addictive gameplay wasn’t enough.

And it’s that addictive gameplay that makes Virtua Tennis 3 such a winner. It’s simple enough that anyone can pick it up and play it, but it’s deep enough that the better player will always win. The game always challenges you to get better, to refine your game until you are a master. It’s something that is regrettably missing from most video games these days.

One of the most accessible and enjoyable sports games ever to grace the industry, Virtua Tennis is a joy to play. If you have even the slightest interest in tennis, you owe it to yourself to pick up this game. It’s $130, and that’s not cheap, but not only does it offer more than enough content for your money, it’s also some of the best fun you can have with your Xbox 360.

"Some of the best fun on the 360."
- Virtua Tennis 3
Follow Own it? Rating: G   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 5 Min


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