Everyone has a Virtua Tennis story including myself. When I was a little younger (and didn't quite need the cane and some assistance to walk around) I used to play Virtua Tennis 2 at the arcades. This was my first introduction to Sega's critically acclaimed tennis game and it couldn't have been better. Years later Sega released Virtua Tennis 2 on the PlayStation 2, but it was nowhere near arcade perfect and the graphics made the PlayStation 2 incarnation feel like a cheap knock off. Sure, there was a Dreamcast version but getting ahold of it was incredibly difficult, especially by the time the series had made its debut on the PlayStation 2. So here we are years later and Sega attempts to bring Virtua Tennis 3 to a Sony console. It's a superb arcade port and everything I would have hoped for, five years ago.
The first thing you'll notice when you boot up the game is the fact that your options haven't really changed all that much. There are four options available to you from the main menu; World Tour, Tournament, Exhibition and Court Games. We'll get to the World Tour later but the Tournament lets you play through 4 grand slam tournaments, with the aim of trying to win them all; much like in the arcades. An exhibition match lets you play one game in either singles or doubles with up to four players and is good practice. There is also a court games option.
Much like the ball games in Virtua Tennis World Tour, Sega have included seven court games for multiplayer. The seven court games include pin crusher, tricky pin crusher, avalanche, panic balloon, court curling, alien attack and super bingo. The games can be played with up to four players, if you want to play the mini games by yourself then you'll have to enter the World Tour mode.
The World Tour mode allows you to enter into the professional tennis rankings and try to become the best of the best. You start off by selecting either the women's or men's tour. After you've done this you can customise your character's face, head, body, outfit and play style. You can also change your player's name. The customisation options are surprisingly indepth, you can even change the height and weight of your player in case you want them to reflect your own look. After you've done this you select your home base and you're ready to begin.
You start off at rank 300 and you have twenty years to work your way up. Your skills will be extremely low at the beginning so you will need to play in practice sessions to increase your skills. There are twelve practice sessions in total. Every session or tournament takes up a week, so if you've got a challenge in the forth week of January then you can take part in three practice sessions to warm up and then play in the tournament. There is also a tennis academy which also helps to increase your skills. Certain tournaments have an entry requirement though and you will need to be at a certain rank to participate in some of the larger tournaments. You won't be participating in the "Australia Challenge" immediately for example. Ranking up is reasonably easy, as long as you keep winning (or put in a respectable performance) your rank will keep improving. The World tour mode also introduces a stamina bar, so you can track how tired your player is. If you push your player too hard when they're tired they won't perform at their peak and they could even get an injury. Overall though, the World Tour mode is really quite similar to the one found in Virtua Tennis 2, sure there are more options but if you're familiar with Virtua Tennis 2 the jumping into this game is seamless.
As you move through the tournaments you'll play against real tennis players including Amelie Mauresmo, Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Martina Hingis, Nicole Vaidisova, Lindsay Davenport, Daniela Hantuchova, Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Tim Henman, James Blake, Mario Ancic, Gael Monfils, Taylor Dent, David Nalbandian, Sebastien Grosjean, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Tommy Haas and Rafael Nadal. The characters also share a likeness to their real life counterparts too, so yes, Lleyton Hewitt does wear his cap backwards like a twelve year old who is trying to be cool in primary school.
The PlayStation 3 version is actually quite different from the Xbox 360 version in terms of features. The biggest omission in the PlayStation 3 version is lack of an online mode. Whilst you can play with up to four players offline it's seriously disappointing that the PlayStation 3 version lacks any online play at all and it makes absolutely no sense. Sega's other PlayStation 3 launch title Full Auto 2: Battlelines is completely playable online. It's very frustrating to think Xbox 360 owners can play this game online but PlayStation 3 owners simply can't. PlayStation 3 owners haven't missed out completely as the game takes advantage of the Sixaxis' motion sensitive controls. Thankfully, though, using the motion sensitivity of the Sixaxis is optional as it's not very intuitive using the Sixaxis and most people will be happier just using the face buttons.
There aren't all that many tennis games available but Virtua Tennis 3 remains the king. However, Virtua Tennis 3 seems content just to claim the title without making any real advancements for the series. In terms of the gameplay, Virtua Tennis 3 feels very similar to its predecessors. The animations have been improved but aside from the animations very few things have changed. This is where our main complaint with the game lies. Sega seemed perfectly happy just to rest on their laurels, it's been years since Virtua Tennis 2 and even Top Spin 2 tried to make gameplay improvements. It's hard to deny that Virtua Tennis 3 is anything but an incredible game of tennis though.
Graphically the game looks good with 1080p support for those who have the capabilities. Even if you don't though the game looks fantastic in 720p or 1080. With tennis games developers always get out easy because what you see is what you get, but the game still looks great, with highly distinctive courts. The courts aren't as distinctive as in Top Spin but they are a lot more realistic. The sound is about what you would expect from the tennis game, but that isn't to say it's bad though.
The World Tour mode is no cakewalk so it will take you hours to actually get to the number one rank. The Virtua Tennis franchise has always been brilliant in multiplayer and this game is too, it's just a shame about the lack of online support. The courtgames aren't too bad and you might come back to them occasionally.
Virtua Tennis 3 is a brilliant game and a great launch title for the PlayStation 3. It's a shame that the game feels remarkably similar to its predecessors, but with a more expanded World Tour mode and an updated player roster you could do a lot worse than Virtua Tennis 3. It's still one of the best tennis games ever.