IGN Review of Virtua Tennis 3
I'm convinced that AM2 has an aversion to online play. The talented, but network-phobic developer left the much-needed functionality out of last month's Virtua Fighter 5 and missed it again with its latest PS3 project, Virtua Tennis 3. After all, the Brits from Sumo Digital included Xbox Live support for the 360 version, so why not keep up with the Joneses and put it in the PlayStation 3 code as well?
That's one of the two biggest mysteries you'll find in Virtua Tennis 3; the other being how many times you can experience d¿j¿ vu before realizing this is essentially the same thing you played with Virtua Tennis 2 (and Virtua Tennis 1). In other words, don't expect Virtua Tennis 3 to shake the foundations of athletic innovation.
Like most successful sports franchises, however, Virtua Tennis 3 has a solid foundation to build on. The arcade-inspired gameplay makes jumping into a match as easy as pressing start and the three-button setup has a surprising amount of flexibility. Simple hits like lobs, slices, and top spins can be modified into smashes, drops, and running shots based on player position and the amount of time a button is held; when you factor in variable player stats and multiple surface types, you get a pretty good game of tennis.
Truth be told, playing lob wars with a buddy is actually rather fun -- even if it does feel familiar. Whether you're smashing back and forth in a singles match or teaming up with three others for a doubles competition, there's real entertainment value here; in fact, some matches can get downright intense. When two or more advanced players are butting heads, it isn't uncommon to see 30-stroke volleys that involve every racket motion known to man. Diehard fans should feel right at home.
The new and improved World Tour Mode is a nice distraction as well. That's a good thing since it's the likely spot that most folks will spend the majority of their time with it. One big advantage is that it's a hell of a lot deeper than the career mode of Virtua Tennis 2. To be more specific, this particular version adds a sim-like stamina meter, extra mini-games, various practice challenges, and a formal "Tennis Academy" that fine tunes your attributes and skills. Putting it all together makes for quite a few game years of net play and plenty of opportunity to mold the kind of player you want.
Surprisingly, creating your own character is actually the most entertaining proposition that Virtua Tennis brings to the table. Though the facial modification and accessory options are limited, enhancing their skills via the Tennis Academy (timed shot challenges) and the mini-games is quite addictive. Finding an excuse to avoid boulder-sized tennis balls while capturing fruit to improve your footwork or blowing up orb-shooting robots to better your stroke is a smart and surreal way to pass the time. Being able to influence what sort of tendencies your alter ego has (big server, fast runner, etc) is a nice touch too.
Visually, Virtua Tennis 3 isn't so bad either. The animations are far more fluid than they have been in previous iterations, and the 1080p support means that showing off that expensive new plasma TV won't be problem. What baffles me, though, is why SEGA only allowed the game to look good when the camera is top-down on the action. Once between-set "reactionary movies" play, the repeated animations grow old after only a few matches and the super-wrinkly faces make players look like modern-day Thunderbird puppets instead of people. The poor conversation scenes aren't so hot either.
Those few presentational snafus aren't so bad on their own, but there are a couple more that can't help but be noticed. Why is it, for instance, that you begin your career at rank 300 but can only play against 13 men and seven women? Were generic players not considered? You can make a fake guy any time you want, why can't the computer? It's also rather disappointing that the game is a total push-over until you're ranked 100 or so (several hours into the career) and that you can't play single-player mini-games unless you're in the World Tour. Sure the option to participate in mini-games is on the main menu, mind you, but it's only there for multiplayer. That's sort of weird.
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