|Virtua Tennis 3 (2007)
Available for: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
If you’ve played one tennis game, you’ve played them all. So the fact that Sega has finally released a new installment of the popular “Virtua Tennis” series to next-gen consoles is kind of a moot point. Last seen in console format on the Dreamcast (and more recently in the arcades under the title “Power Smash 3”), the “Virtua Tennis” franchise has long been known as the kind of sports game that is not only easy to pick up and play, but also ridiculously addictive. The same holds true for the latest installment, but while the winning formula remains relatively untouched, it’s also the title’s Achilles’ heel. “Virtua Tennis 3” may be packaged in a next-gen game case, but it feels all too familiar to suggest that it’s actually next-gen.
This is all somewhat encouraging, however, as it means that the game’s near-perfect World Tour mode is still intact. After creating a custom player with the game’s character editor (which greatly lacks depth), you’ll begin your career as the 300th-ranked player in the world. It’ll take hard work and patience if you ever want to reach the top spot. In fact, you’ll find that most of the tournaments during your first year on the tour are unplayable (you’re required to be ranked at least number 208 to participate). Most of your time will be spent at the tennis academy, learning basic controls or playing mini-games that increase one of four attributes: ground stroke, serve, volley and footwork. The mini-games are actually the best part of “Virtua Tennis 3.” Whether you’re dodging giant tennis balls (Avalanche), knocking over stacked oil drums (Drum Topple), warding off invaders from outer space (Alien Attack), or playing a quick game of bowling (Pin Crusher), you’ll be glad that this is where most of the playing takes place. There are about 10 mini-games in all, with each game featuring different levels of difficulty.
Unfortunately, you’re eventually forced on to the court, and this is where “Virtua Tennis 3” loses much of its appeal. The AI is so incredibly unresponsive that you’ll find yourself defeating opponents in mere minutes, and the professional roster is so limited that you’ll likely play the same group of five or six guys throughout your entire 20-year career. It begs the question, “Why am I playing guys like Rafael Nader and Roger Federer as a 200+ ranked player?” And if so, “Why am I only advancing a few spots in the rankings after defeating them?” In truth, a player of your stature would never play one of the top-ranked pros in the game until you’ve reached a top 100 spot, and even then it would probably be in a first-round pairing during a giant tournament. Instead, Tim Henman is personally asking for private training sessions, and you’re playing doubles with Andy Roddick. It’s a shame you can’t go on a date with Maria Sharapova too, because then this game would really be worth the high price tag.
Despite the slight reduction in price, “Virtua Tennis 3” is still rather pricey for a tennis game. Fans of 2K Games’ “Top Spin” series received the latest version of their beloved tennis game on the Xbox 360 almost a year ago, and for 10 bucks less. The graphics may not have been as sharp, but the difference isn’t very noticeable. And though comparing the two titles is like comparing apples and oranges, the genre is hardly in high enough demand to warrant another tennis game so soon. It’s not that either title is remarkably better, but just that “Top Spin” came first.