Virtua Tennis 3 Review

I’ve always been more of a basketball fan, so when Virtua Tennis 3 for the PSP arrived last week, my initial response was complete confusion. I’m not lying when I tell you that my only experience with tennis in the past 24 years of existence is the original Virtua Tennis for the Dreamcast. I played it for about 10 minutes, most of which I spent trying to find the dunk button. Alas, much like its Dreamcast and PSP predecessors, Virtua Tennis 3 definitely doesn’t have a dunk button. I know, I scoured the manual for it.

What Virtua Tennis 3 does have, though, is some fun gameplay. The fact that I couldn’t foul anybody didn’t even matter after a half-hour or so. The tennis is fast-paced and enjoyable, and you won’t find yourself in drawn-out matches; initially, at least. There are a few inconsistencies, such as when the difficulty ratchets up and the same tennis pros you were stomping with ease earlier start to give you a run for your money. The ones with a good volley game are particularly hard to deal with, especially since your own volleying is difficult to master the way the computer has. But generally, you’ll have fun.

Virtua Tennis 3 offers a number of different play-modes that should be fairly self-explanatory. Tournament is just a series of matches of increasing difficulty that you play with a pro of your choice, exhibition mode lets you play a single match, court games lets you play the various mini-games (which I’ll get to later), and multiplayer lets you play somebody ad-hoc. Internet play is sorely lacking. Then, of course, there’s the main single-player mode for Virtua Tennis 3, world tour mode.

I started off my world tour by building my vision of the ultimate tennis player. Again, having no familiarity with tennis whatsoever, my conception of the greatest player took the form of an albino birdman, nearly 7 feet tall but barely more than 100 pounds in weight. The custom character creator not only let me build exactly that, but also did me one better and allowed me to give him a pretty rad afro. After choosing a place to put my home on a 3-dimensional globe, my creature was born into the Virtua Tennis world.

It actually turns out to be a pretty twisted place. I found myself going back and forth between training sessions all over the globe that featured my character dodging giant tennis balls and picking up fruit, or defeating an alien invasion by returning balls at them. Every once in a while, my coach would send me these random emails and give me a new pair of shoes or wrist-bands that did absolutely nothing. You train your custom character’s stats by playing the minigames or visiting the academy where they force you to repeat various maneuvers over and over. Sometimes they ask you to do things that you may not really understand, like when they asked me to win the point with a 4 shot rally. I honestly had no clue what that meant, and the game didn’t explain, but it became clear once I played that they wanted me to win on the 4th exchange of the ball. Other than that, the game is generally not difficult to understand.

Once you’ve developed your character a bit, you can enter tournaments and beat players to gain in rank. This is where things get really weird. For one, nobody batted an eye at my monstrosity of a character. Every point scored in a doubles match was hilarious, as my birdman would wrap his gigantic, stick-like arms around the head of whichever computer partner I had drawn. Things rapidly get stranger as the other tennis players develop relationships with you. These culminate in insane confrontations in the middle of the tennis court following a match. The computer opponent will walk up to you, friendship music will play, and then they’ll stare at you with completely dead eyes, chest glitching through their own shirt, as they utter some random phrase so completely inane you begin to wonder whether or not its sarcasm. At first I thought the computer was just being a good sport, but every time it followed up its own defeat by thanking me, my certainty eroded just a little bit. I eventually came to the realization that this mad, masochistic machine was either chomping at the bit for the chance to destroy me or it was pleading with me at every step to put it out of its misery. Unfortunately for the computer, I had a lot more fun doing the minigame where you pop balloons with your serves, so I spent most of my time doing that.

Graphically, the game is a mixed bag. Things are alright if you don’t look too closely, but on the zooms there are lots of texture seams visible when the characters move, and the characters surrounding the court look like something straight out of Silent Hill. Rather than faces, they all have these weird smears of shadow and light, and they sit utterly motionless. The audience is a similarly half-conceived mess of colors. Also, I noticed some of the trees have large squares around them, as if the developers didn’t properly set the transparency on the flat brush images. The music is basically non-intrusive, although it occasionally takes a turn for the awkward. The sound effects are acceptable, they never really bothered me at least.

As the game goes on, things get a bit tired. I suppose it would be much better with a human opponent, but the lack of internet play makes it that much more difficult to find one. Besides the rackets, the equipment doesn’t generally confer stat bonuses so I didn’t really get sucked in by the collection aspect of the game. There is a definite learning curve at work, though. For me, a new initiate into the new Virtua Tennis world, I found myself mastering different aspects of the gameplay bit by bit and significantly bettering my game. For instance, once I began to figure out how to return ground strokes with full power, I really gained the edge on the early opponents. The game keeps track of that sort of thing, and rewards you with e-mails and new items for it. If you aren’t new to Virtua Tennis, the tennis mechanics don’t have anything new to offer. I got hold of a copy of Virtua Tennis World Tour, the previous PSP incarnation, and the gameplay was basically unchanged.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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