Mobile gamers require brevity in a videogame. The ability to power on a device, play for five minutes, and then shut it off is usually the reason people buy handheld systems in the first place. You can play them at home, sure, but that's console territory. That said, when mobile gamers find themselves in transit, they want quick spurts of gameplay without fear of repercussion if the system's battery fails or the ride to school ends sooner than planned. And it's a known fact that certain games are better suited to this task more than others are.
Virtua Tennis World Tour is one such game. Developed by Sumo Digital and SEGA, World Tour stands as one of the best reasons to own a PSP. Or should you have one already, it's one of the best games you can get. World Tour offers the same kind of fast, fun, engrossing gameplay of the arcade and Dreamcast classics. And because it's portable, it feels that much cooler. Fans of the series will find little to complain about here and will most assuredly praise World Tour as the best tennis game, since, well, Virtua Tennis 2.
World Tour isn't just a game for fans, either. Neither is it a niche title requiring a specific measure of commitment to enjoy. More than anything, it's the accessibility that defines Virtua Tennis best. Anyone can pick it up and have fun. Fans of the series know this, but those new to the series will discover what they've been missing out on. And what, precisely, would that be? Well, in case you're wondering, the Virtua Tennis series is best known for combining simple game mechanics with wildly addictive gameplay. And that's basically what's so appealing about it. You can learn how to play in a matter of minutes yet take several weeks conquering the nuances of each court and character. This has remained true in every iteration of the series from the arcade original, to the popular Dreamcast port and finally to the PS2 version.
As things haven't changed with the PSP, World Tour draws on the successful formula of its predecessors, adds new modes and mini-games, throws in a decidedly groovy multiplayer mode, and basically keeps everything else the same. Obviously, the decision to keep World Tour as close to its predecessors as possible is not a bad thing. But anyone looking for a new, changed, super-improved version of the Dreamcast classic won't find it here. It's still Virtua Tennis, after all, and it plays just as great as it always has.
Like every other aspect of the game, controlling your virtual player feels simple and intuitive. To start, you can choose to move your character with the analog nub or the directional pad, depending on taste. Using the directional pad is recommended though, since the analog nub's intrinsic sensitivity can lead to misplaced hits. It's far too easy to misfire in this case, which causes the ball to fly in undesired directions. And that's just lethal in a game like tennis. Either input method works, but please stick with the directional pad. Your title as Most Awesome Tennis Pro depends on it.
The face buttons control three different stroke options. Pressing Square causes you to lob the ball. The Circle button lets you slice the ball and "X" lets you perform a simple groundstroke. And that's pretty much it. It's not simple so much as it's refined and elegant. And yes, it's time for a cliché: World Tour is easy to learn yet hard to master. There's a good chance that novice players will have their athletic asses handed to them even if they've long since memorized the controls. World Tour, and the sport of tennis in general, is all about reading your opponent then adapting your style to combat theirs. It's also about anticipating your opponent's strokes and planning yours several moves in advance. And luckily, World Tour capitalizes on this to deliver a deep, addictive, thoroughly engrossing tennis game.
Now for a few specifics. World Tour splits the action into six main modes. The most mobile-friendly of the bunch, Quick Match, assigns character and court selection to the CPU. All you need to do is select Quick Match from the main menu and start playing. Tournament Mode lets you compete in a series of matches to earn money and worldwide recognition. You can choose singles or doubles matches, a real-world player, then jump in and start playing. The "main" mode of the game, called World Tour Mode, lets you create a male and female player, and then compete to become the world's premiere tennis player.
Chances are you'll spend most of the time playing in Quick Match mode (for those trips to school or work) and World Tour Mode (for whenever, really). Quick Match is just as simple as described in the last paragraph. You can literally play for five minutes or four hours, depending on your time and the PSP's battery life. You'll quickly find that Tournament mode feels just as simple. When it comes to World Tour, though, things get decidedly complex. Not too complex, of course. It's still Virtua Tennis "simple." And you can still play in quick bursts or extended game sessions depending on your mood. But there's far more depth in World Tour mode for those looking for more than just speedy matches.
Previous IGN articles have discussed this feature in-depth, so I'll spare you too many details, but not a quick recap: World Tour starts with a character creation system where you need to define two characters, one male, and one female. Options include name, head, body, gear, etc. You can choose among a handful of faces, hairstyles, body styles and clothing options. It's not the most robust character creation system out there, but it gets the job done. It would have been nice to see more options in almost every area. About the only facet of the system that gives ample room for customization is perhaps choosing hairstyles, since each character can choose from over 15 different styles. Other options, such as facial features and accessories, feel pretty limited in comparison.
After settling on a pair of tennis hopefuls, it's off to a world of training, tournaments and shopping for athletic clothes and accessories. When playing through World Tour mode, players navigate their options (training, tournaments, and tennis shop) by manually rotating a virtual globe. Each option sits in a different part of the world, including your "home," which is where you can rest (to recover stamina from competing) and to review statistics. Interestingly enough, you can plant your "home" in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Funny stuff.
World Mode uses a calendar function, so tournaments appear according to a pre-set schedule. Every time you decide to train, or compete in a tournament, time passes. So if you miss a particular tournament because you decided to train, it won't appear for another calendar year. Which isn't as bad as it sounds, really, there's plenty to keep you busy. And here's why: your athletic duo begins its career with no skills or experience, meaning you need to build them from scratch. Fortunately for all involved, whipping your virtual characters into virtual shape is as fun (if not even more enjoyable) than competing in real tournaments.
Doing so requires you to participate in a series of focused mini-games. Each is designed to improve skills in serving, footwork, strokes, or volley. You can practically train whatever type athlete you want. Every mini-game you play raises specific character attributes such as power, angle, control, etc. So you can easily find the mini-games that stress, say speed and accuracy and then focus on those exclusively. Want someone who specializes in fancy footwork? Go right ahead. Want someone with a powerful stroke? Go for it. It's a simple, effective method that affords you a great degree of control over the game.
As for the mini-games themselves, well, they're pretty damn fun. So fun, in fact, you'll spend weeks upon weeks of in-game calendar time just playing and replaying them. In Tank Attack, which works your stroke, there are two tanks, one of which launches red balls (bad) while the other shoots yellow balls (good.) You need to dodge the red balls while hitting the tanks with yellow balls. One of the tanks has a life meter and you have to eliminate it before a timer runs out. The Danger Flags mini-game, which helps practice footwork, sees you running around the court collecting red flags while dodging red balls launched by three machines on the other side of the court. It's not as easy as it sounds. And in Prize Sniper, which helps better serving technique, you have to strike a bunch of items moving on a conveyer belt, with smaller items yielding more points. In short, the mini-games account for all sorts of fun, fun and yet more fun.
As well conceived and fun as the mini-games are they're still not as fun as beating live opponents in Multiplayer. World Tour is just one of those games that screams multiplayer. Playing against live opponents is far more rewarding than going up against the game's CPU. Especially when you're good and your opponent sucks. You can play singles or doubles matches and compete against one or three other players. Multiplayer setup is quick, painless and relatively lag free. But for whatever reason, the serve power gauge fills up faster when playing against live opponents, so there's the need to watch out for that. Still, it's all sorts of fun. Unfortunately, the only mode available in Virtua Tennis multiplayer is your basic quick match, but it's enough. Still, having additional multiplayer modes (perhaps multiplayer mini-games?) would have been a very nice addition.
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