Release Date: March 20, 2007
My life revolves around playing, watching, and even competing in sports. Basketball, golf, bowling, baseball, tennis — you name it; I play it. My favorite sport out of the bunch is tennis, which I try to play on the weekends. Due to Mother Nature, this isn't always possible, but thankfully, SEGA has released Virtua Tennis 3 for the PS3, which will hopefully fill this void during inclement weather.
Virtua Tennis is my favorite sports series, and I was ecstatic when I heard it was being released for the PS3. Even with its poor graphics, the original Virtua Tennis for the PS2 was a ton of fun, and I expected the same level of entertainment from this iteration.
The major difference between VT3 and older versions is in the shot mechanics. Instead of mashing and holding the hit button like before, VT3 has a different mechanic based on the tennis player's body position. In order to manage a good, strong hit, your character must be in the correct location and position to execute the perfect shot. If the character's body position is slightly off, the shot will lack power, giving the opponent a better chance of smacking the ball right back in your face. This may be new to VT3, but for tennis, this is a way of life, and for it to be implemented in this way makes the title that much more fun and realistic.
Although groundstrokes may have undergone an impressive overhaul, the volleying system seems to have gotten worse. Unlike VT, where most volleys would have a decent amount of power behind them, this does not seem to be the case in VT3. In most situations, my volleys ended up as light taps, but on rare occasions, I managed to pull off some good, strong volleys. The volley mechanics not only seem to depend on your body placement (like the groundstrokes), but also on the height of the ball. The higher the contact point of the ball, the stronger the volley, but if you hit ball at a low point, it will end up being a very weak shot.
The best thing about VT3 is that picking up the basics is so easy that even a button masher or player with no prior knowledge about the game or sport can pick it up enjoy it right away. With simple buttons such as X to hit a shot with top spin, Square for a slice, and Triangle for a lob, a novice can become an expert in one run-through. VT3 will also catch the attention of non-gamers, like your parents. My dad, who criticizes me for playing too many video games, has only given compliments about how realistic VT3 looks and feels.
For example, when you see Roger Federer's face, you can tell instantly it's him; the same can be said of the other male tennis players, like Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, and James Blake. There is also a nice variety of women netters, but unfortunately, all of them look very scary. Maria Sharapova just doesn't look like herself here. Even though there is a good selection of the top 100 players, the main attraction for the game is the World Tour. This is where you take your very own created player, replicating yourself or creating the "you" that you always wanted to be, and take it through a career.
World Tour is much like MLB: The Show's Road to the Show mode or Madden's superstar mode. World Tour is where you take your own created character and build him/her into the number one tennis player of the world. To do so will require tons of training and practicing in the skills that you feel are important to the character. Among the skills that can be increased are: footwork, groundstrokes, volleys, and serves.
Depending on the focus of the training, your character will become better in that particular skill set. These skills are increased each time you successfully finish your training; training sessions are essentially mini-games that can also be played with a friend in multiplayer mode.
Among the training sessions are: bull's eye, pin crusher, drum topple, avalanche, alien attack, court curling, panic balloon, and super bingo. Each one has its own objective and rules and focuses on a specific skill. For example, super bingo and court curling help improve groundstroke and control, while bull's eye works on volleying, and avalanche works on the footwork. Some of these games are more enjoyable than others, but it all comes down to personal preference.
In addition to these mini-games, the World Tour mode also has several helpful features, like the calendar, which informs you of tournaments and appointments. The calendar also indicates how many days you can practice and strategically plans when you can rest, which is very important in preventing injury to your player. Injuries bring on forced rest, which makes you miss games, lose skills, and lead to slower response times. This is the first time that injuries have been added to a VT game, but as long as your player manages to make it to the tournament, no injuries will occur on the court. This isn't very realistic, but perhaps it could be worked into the next iteration so that your player sprains an ankle or suddenly cramps up after running out of stamina.
A tournament is predictably organized into two formats: singles and doubles. If you do not train enough, singles is the most difficult mode, while you can skate by in doubles because you can choose an AI partner, who is surprisingly astute and effective. The quickest way to level a character would be to run through the doubles matches first and then jump into singles when the character is at a decent level.
Unfortunately, in order to jump to the next level of players, you must first beat a majority of tournaments at your level. This allows you to get a better understanding of how the players play at that level, in addition to gaining some friendship and rivalries. For me, I became buddies with Federer and Sharapova and a rival of Nadal's.
Thankfully, the characters do not have voiceovers because I'm not certain how long I could take listening to repeated lines about just how good we did or what we need to do in the next match. Instead, you get text boxes showing what they want to say, which is preferable to constantly repeated phrases.
This isn't a tennis game, though, unless you can create the appropriate environment. Top Spin for PS2 was fairly boring because it didn't recreate the true feel of a tennis match; there was no crowd during doubles matches, and there was no referee calling the game. This has never been the case in the VT series, and in this iteration, the calls have improved tenfold. Not only will you hear the crowd cheer or boo depending on the play, but you will also hear sighs and the refs calling the ball as they should, easily transforming an otherwise mellow game into one that simply pops with life. Sega did a good job of capturing the atmosphere of a tennis game, right down to the smallest details, like the sounds of drop shots and power shots.
To complement the excellent sound in VT3, the graphics are even better. There are some issues with the character models, but the entire environment is just marvelous. The courts make it seem like you are truly at the competition, and with long matches, it becomes so much more enjoyable. The color and quality may not be awe-inspiring like some Blu-ray movies, but it is enough to make you feel like you're at the match. With the ability to customize your player's stance and looks, VT3 becomes so much more enjoyable to watch and play.
Virtua Tennis 3 is a great game for the PS3, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys tennis or wants a fun party game. It has a great atmosphere and is extremely easy to pick up. Anyone can play this title, and with so much variety and replayability, it never really gets old. One thing that the PS3 version lacks is an online mode to play against friends (the X360 version does has this), so you're limited to playing multiplayer mode locally with friends.
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