Matt Keller
08 Apr, 2007

Virtua Tennis 3 Review

360 Review | McEnroe tantrums not included.
Sega’s NAOMI arcade board was arguably the dominating force in arcade gaming at the start of this decade. NAOMI was home to the birth of Virtua Tennis, a new take on the age-old sport, favouring faster gameplay and short matches over the traditional five set marathons of tennis games past. Like many other NAOMI board games, Virtua Tennis was released for the Sega Dreamcast in early 2000, packing in a few extra training mini-games and the first version of World Tour mode, for a bit of extra longevity. Virtua Tennis 2 was released into the arcades in 2001, but is better remembered for its home version (one of the last PAL Dreamcast releases), which featured a completely redesigned World Tour mode. The new World Tour mode was a tennis career mode on a scale that had not been seen since the Mega Drive’s Davis Cup World Tour Tennis, but implemented the far more exciting Virtua Tennis gameplay – effectively making the game one of the best on the Dreamcast. PlayStation 2 and PSP versions followed, but couldn’t replicate the sheer quality of the Dreamcast version.

Things have changed quite significantly since then. Sega’s Dreamcast, and their home console ambitions, have been laid to rest. NAOMI has been retired, with the new Lindbergh board taking charge. Fortunately, the Virtua Tennis series is still kicking on, with the third version of the game now available for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC and PSP. Earlier in the week, we brought you our review of the PlayStation 3 version of the game, so now it’s time to take a look at the version of the game for Microsoft’s console. To be frank, there’s not quite that much different between the two versions of Virtua Tennis 3 available for the two new generation consoles, but there are a number of small differences that really put the Xbox 360 version ahead of its rival’s.

The real Prince of Tennis

The real Prince of Tennis
Development duties for the Xbox 360 version were outsourced to UK house Sumo Digital. While outsourcing can sometimes be a concern for ports, Sumo Digital has proven themselves more than capable in the past, particularly with their excellent ports of OutRun 2 and OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast – and their handling of Virtua Tennis 3 is most excellent. The Xbox 360 version of the game keeps the same graphical prowess of the PS3 game, including 1080p support (one of the first 360 games to do so), but also has those important little things that the PS3 lacks, like achievements and rumble support. Arguably the most important thing the 360 version has over the PS3 game is the addition of online support.

Online support encompasses your typical singles and doubles matches (your doubles partner can play on the same console too), but also has tournament play and a feature called VT.TV, which lets you view other matches, as well as highlights from the day’s play. Due to the speed of play, latency is quite an important factor – if you or your opponent has a poor connection, you’ll see a rather interesting phenomenon, where the ball magically hangs in the air, waiting for your opponent to hit it. Unfortunately for this reviewer, this seemed to be the rule rather than the exception, but other PALGN staff have expressed that they’ve had no such problems. When the game works, it works well – Virtua Tennis has always been very classy in multiplayer, and the third game in the series is no exception. Just watch out for people using King and Duke, and you’ll be fine.

Just like my attempts at humour.

Just like my attempts at humour.
Other parts of Virtua Tennis 3 make it seem like Sega took the easy way out, and just stuck to incremental upgrades. So while the core Virtua Tennis gameplay is still there, it hasn’t really evolved too much in the past 6 years. You've got the same three buttons - top spin, cut shot and lob shot, though the charge up for power shots seems to be more pronounced. Running shots and drop shots are also useful parts of your arsenal. Player movement is now a lot more of a factor - try to make a turn on a dime, and your player is going to fall flat on his bum. Realism tends to go out the window when rallies get filled with diving return shots - but these can be easily disposed of once you've played a dozen matches. Power smashes have a tendency to make the lob shots completely useless, but they look really cool. Serving seems to have become more effective, particularly against AI players - you've got a much better chance of smashing an ace when you get a MAX serve than you did in previous games.

Exhibition, Tournament, World Tour and Court games are the main modes on offer – World Tour making up the real meat of the single player experience. Things have changed a little within the World Tour, but not significantly. Players no longer have to manage a male and female character, which we found to be a little bit of a bummer when it came to mixed doubles tournaments – it does effectively halve the game, and doesn’t expose you to the different play styling of the opposite sex. A stamina system has been introduced, requiring the player to take a rest every couple of weeks – realistic, but a little silly. Three recovery modes are available – the rest at home will give you enough of a boost to keep going, the holiday will relax your player and the energy drink will allow you to not miss any time, but results in the increased chance of injury.

Tennis racquets are quite effective against alien invaders

Tennis racquets are quite effective against alien invaders
Players start at the rank of 300, and must work their way down to #1 and defeat Duke and King in order to complete the game. It’s a pretty lengthy task, but quite enjoyable. The first tournament series, Challenger, is really quite easy, and you’ll blast through every match 2-0. The training mini-games will help you to increase your skills in serving, volley, movement and stroke play, with various sub skills within each category raised based on how well you performed each task. Professional players will also offer guidance between matches, and will occasionally challenge your player to a practice match, which will also give a skills boost. Professional players are the only ones you will meet, however – there are no no-name players in the game, so it makes it a bit silly when you’re wiping the court with Roger Federer as a #200+ ranked player. The Tennis Academy also provides guidance on how to do certain types of shots, and allows you to test them in a small series of challenges.

Once you clear the #200 rank, the game ramps up the difficulty in the next series of tournaments – it’s competitive, but still able to be won convincingly. Get to the #100 rank tournaments quickly, and you might need to spend a full year on training to be able to compete – sometimes a player’s raw skill is not enough. It would be nice to see Sega get a hold of some official sponsorship for the World Tour tournaments (it’s still the Sega Professional Tennis World Tour), as we’ve not yet had a tennis game to date that has had backing from all of the different tennis associations across the world.

Mini-games are entertaining as always, but have been enhanced due to a far better physics engine than what was available in the previous game. Some of the games only feature subtle changes from Virtua Tennis 2 (Prize Sniper is now Balloon Sniper, and such), while other games are completely new. The bowling game does seem to cut out a little early at the end of each frame – so a pin that’s in the process of falling over may not be counted. The 1000 achievement points are spread across 50 different achievements, and involve a variety of activities – they’re all within the realms of possibility, but it could take a considerable amount of time to get them all (especially 100 games on each type of surface, and defeating Duke and King is no easy task).

Some of the PALGN staff could use a strong backhand.

Some of the PALGN staff could use a strong backhand.
Virtua Tennis 3 was one of the first games released on the Lindbergh board, so it doesn’t look quite as spectacular as it did when it was first revealed. That’s not to say the game looks bad – each of the players has been accurately recreated, the animation is silky smooth and the courts look quite nice, as they get worn down over the course of a match. Some texture work leaves a bit to be desired – particularly on the high rise buildings in the Gold Coast arena, and the frame rate can drop for seemingly no reason at the end of a doubles point (not during play, fortunately). The game is very sharp on a high definition set, though we do not have access to one capable of outputting 1080p. Sound isn’t particularly good or bad – the umpires call matches in their native language which is always a nice feature, and the game doesn’t overdo the grunts and groans of the players.

It’s not quite the leap we experienced between the first and second games, but Virtua Tennis 3 certainly continues to provide the high quality gameplay we expect from the series. Online play is probably going to be the deal breaker for anyone who owns both a PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but rumble and achievement points are always helpful. There are still a few small things that Sega could have implemented to improve the experience, but you really can’t go wrong with Virtua Tennis 3 – there’s lengthy single player game and it’s an absolute blast with friends.
The Score
Virtua Tennis 3 might be a mere incremental upgrade, but it has almost everything one needs in a tennis game. Online play on the 360 version of the game is just the icing on the cake. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Virtua Tennis 3 Content

Virtua Tennis 3 Review
03 May, 2007 Portable ace?
Virtua Tennis 3 Review
05 Apr, 2007 Deuce.
Virtua Tennis 3 demo released
17 Mar, 2007 Sega serves up a demo.
7 years ago
It seems so far that the 360 has got the better version of all the multi platform titles except Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion. Pity they didn't release this during the Australian Open, I'd be more hyped to pick it up.
7 years ago
I heard the PSP version was one of the best versions too. Is this true?
7 years ago
Too similar for me to pick up. i played the crap out of VT2 and it just seems they've added more mini-games.
7 years ago
^Agreed^ Despite the quality of the Virtua Tennis 2 title i had on my PS2, just more of the same next-gen is not enough to warrant a full-price purchase. I would have also liked to play as some different pros. Although the FED express wouldn't be cheap, surely they can entice some of the other top 50 players with the incentive being to be a part of a video game.
7 years ago
I'm not sure I totally like the feel of the new VT either. While I've only played the xbox360 demo, the speed of rallies is just way over the top. Its so fast, I felt like i was guessing which direction it was going most of the time. When i got better at the game, i started dominating the points more but it never felt like a proper tennis game.

One reason is because its so easy to change the direction of the ball. In real tennis, the safe shot is to send it back the way it came, but here you can hit it anywhere you want, knowing 100% of the time its going to go in. This is probably something that will never be captured in a tennis game. Smash Court 2 got close to capturing real tennis, where you had to time the button press, if you hit it at the right time, you would do a 'nice' shot whicih was a harder more accurate shot. If you mistimed it, you would hit a slower shot, enabling your opponent to get back into the point hence losing your dominance. It was a subtle difference between the two only and was a good gameplay mechanic. The game was still arcadey because the ball rarely went out, but you got long rallies, and if you timed it well, you could slowly dominate your opponent at the back of the court. It was very easy to lose myself in the game, as timing was everything.

I know its an arcade title, but the transition from VT2 to VT3 has turned the game into more a very fast paced pong.
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