The Virtua Tennis franchise will always have a place in PALGN's heart as one of our very favourite finest multiplayer sports games ever, as well as being one of our most loved arcade and Dreamcast titles. When we picked this game up, memories instantly flooded back of the long rallies, the sweaty-palmed multiplayer sessions and the amount of money we invested in those accursedly addictive arcade machines. A few attempts have been made to bring Virtua Tennis to handhelds (ranging from the N-Gage version to the Game Boy Advance version) and, whilst this has been achieved with moderate success, the games have been somewhat watered down in the transition. However, along with the PSP comes a lot more power for developers to toy with, and it's made a telling difference.
Firstly, it's worth noting that this game isn't entirely new. Infact it's anything but new. The game is achingly similar to the Dreamcast version, bar a new character roster, some new mini-games and wireless support. Those expecting an entirely new game will have to wait. The core gameplay has thankfully remained unaltered, so it's easy to pick up the game and get straight into a game. Veterans of the series will recognise the familiar menus and options.
Just like the previous incarnations, the controls are extremely easy to pick up. The circle, square and X buttons are used for performing rally shots, and serving is done by pressing either of these buttons twice. Just like in Mario Tennis, the earlier you position for the shot, the harder it will be. The controls are very simple, but it's the simplicity that makes this game so accessible.
The character roster has been refreshed, with the female line-up boasting the likes of Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport, Daniela Hantuchova, Amelie Mauresmo, and Nicole Vaidisova. Meanwhile, the male line-up includes Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Tim Henman, Lleyton Hewitt, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Tommy Haas, Sebastien Grosjean and David Nalbandian. If you're not happy with any of these pros then players can create their own players, using a fairly extensive modification mode.
Sega has included a few simple additions to help make the game a little different. These minigames include Blockbuster, Fruit Dash, Blocker and Balloon Smash. These can be found in a 'ball games' option on the main menu, though all feel rather tacked on as an afterthought. Aside from this, the game also includes a Quick Match option, as well as Tournament and Exhibition modes. The World Tour mode is the heart of the game, and basically a Career mode, where players play matches to work themselves up to the number one ranking.
Gameplay-wise, the game is just as addictive as we remember, being both simple to pick up and extremely difficult to put down. Loading is an issue which has been circling the PSP since the console was first announced, and unfortunately Sega's game hasn't made the transition smoothly: there's a decent amount of loading here, and it's a tad disappointing as aside from this, the game couldn't be easier to pick up and play.
The controls are what originally made this game so brilliant, so to make a mistake to this port would have been detrimental to the game's quality. Thankfully, we're pleased to report that the controls have made the transition to the PSP relatively undamaged. The PSP analogue stick is fairly fidgety, so it depends on your personal preference - we suspect a lot of people will use the directional pad initially, but swap over to the analogue stick as they become experienced. Ultimately (and through no fault of Sega's) in the end the controls just aren't as good as the Dreamcast or PlayStation 2 version.
The multiplayer mode is brilliant in this game. Two people will require a copy of this game to play, but once you pass that $900 [*cough* - Ed] obstacle you've got one of the best multiplayer titles on the PSP. The game supports up to sixteen players, and whilst finding sixteen different players may be a little difficult, we appreciate that the game supports it. Game sharing would have been an incredibly good feature for the game, but we could be expecting too much for a launch title.
The graphics in the game are really great, The Dreamcast version of this game looked narrowly better than the PlayStation 2 port, and the PSP game sits somewhere in between them both. The game is clear, sharp and looks incredible on the PSP's screen. Small details like the umpire or tennis ball are easy to make out. The sound isn't exactly thrilling or captivating, but it does a decent job. The sound of hitting the ball is very reminiscent of what we're used to on the console versions. The arcade music in between games is exactly the same as the console versions, but it's pretty catchy.
The game itself should last a fairly decent amount of time. The multiplayer modes are decent and the ball games will keep players amused for a whole five minutes (or the end of a commercial really, whatever comes first). The World Tour mode is the most expansive mode, and should last about ten hours. There's always the option of going back and playing through the Tour mode again, but those who played it on the PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast will experience a sense of familiarity the first time around, let alone the second.
There is no doubt that Virtua Tennis is one of the best games for the PSP's launch. If you're a fan of the previous games then you'll absolutely love this port, as most parts of the game have made the transition successfully. The two main issues we have with the title are the slow loading and the controls, which aren't as intuitive as we hoped. Overall though, this game has the lot: great gameplay, decent graphics and an addictive multiplayer mode. Just don't expect anything new.
Note: this game will not run without the PSP firmware being 1.52 or higher. The 1.52 firmware is included on the disk.