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Virtua Tennis 3

For: PSP

Smashing stuff

Product: Virtua Tennis 3 | Developer: Sumo Digital | Publisher: Sega | Format: PSP | Genre: Sports | Players: 1-4 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
Virtua Tennis 3 PSP, thumbnail 1
Technically speaking, a video game that successfully recreates a classic sport should be, by its very nature, one of the best video games. After all, sports such as tennis, football, and rugby enjoy tried-and-tested rules and mechanics that have been honed over decades of field-testing.

What hope has a humble video game designer trying to invent a new game of matching the complexity and elegance of, say, cricket, on a six-week schedule using Mickey Mouse for a lead character?

So it follows that if a developer can really capture the essence of a famous and beloved sport, distilling its subtleties into a series of tiny thumb movements and button presses, it could and should be astonishing. At its best, a sports game should allow those without the physical requirements of the real sport a glorious echo of what it is to step out in front of a cheering throng of spectators, while at the same time allowing those who already play to practice their real-world technique and theory in a virtual world.

Virtua Tennis 3 is one such video game. It marries all the complex detail of playing tennis to a professional level with the paraphernalia of being a world-class competitor. In other words, you'll need to master the perfect timing required to strike punishing top spin ground strokes and pixel-perfect cross court slices, as well as a training regime that delicately balances rest with ability-enhancing fruit-dodging mini-games. (More on those later.)

We'll spare you the rudimentary rules of tennis, save to explain that at its most simple, Virtua Tennis requires you to play off against an opponent, for (at default setting) the best of three games. You use the analogue stick to move and apply after touch, the X button for top spin shots, the Circle button for slice shots and Triangle for lobs.

It's a deceptively simple set-up that actually affords you a devastating amount of control.

When your opponent returns a shot, you must try to anticipate where it will arrive and run quickly into position. Your shot type and footing automatically vary depending on your position relative to the ball (varying from a stretched out dive through to a considered powered-up ground stroke ) and so you must mainly concern yourself with position and, of course, what type of spin or slice you apply to the ball. After pressing the shot button you can use the analogue stick to determine the shot's direction – the angle becoming more pronounced the longer you hold down the directional button.

With these simple tools, virtually any imaginable point can be played out.

The game packs a series of exhibition matches for dip-in play and, for the long haul, a World Tour mode enables you to create a bespoke character and take them on a career to the world number one position.

In this mode – the game's centre court – your player starts off ranked a lowly 300th and with pathetic stats. It's your responsibility to improve his or her abilities by playing a variety of inventive mini-games.

These are categorised according to which part of your character's game they improve. For instance, the Bulls Eye game, which has you returning balls at a dart board-style target, hones your return volley and aim statistics. Likewise, Pin Crusher requires you to knock down bowling pins to better your serve power, aim and timing. The games scale up in difficulty from level one to six depending on your skill level, and successfully meeting their criteria is the key to quickly improving your character's ability.

But just like the real thing, it's all a question of balance. The game works on a real-time calendar – each training event, one-off game or tournament you participate in counts as one week in the month. And because your player also has a stamina bar that decreases each time you participate in an event, this must be replenished by taking the occasional week off at home or drinking energy drinks. Ignore this and foolishly let your stamina bar completely deplete, and you then risk incurring an injury that will force you to sit out for a number of weeks – hardly helpful when you're trying to play your way up the rankings.

If it sounds too much like hard work, fear not. The career mode is brilliantly engaging and expertly pitched in difficulty and pace. You'll be instantly sucked in to developing your character and working your way up to the number one spot, and for added distance the exhibition events and ad-hoc multiplayer ensure that this is a sports title that will stay lodged in your PSP's slot right through the summer season.

Virtua Tennis 3 is an extraordinarily refined video game. Ostensibly it might look like lawn-based Pong but the subtlety, intricacy and control afforded to the player on the court combined with the brilliantly pitched difficulty makes it something far deeper – and just as engaging as playing (or even watching) the real thing.
Virtua Tennis 3
Reviewer photo
Simon Parkin | 27 March 2007
Exceptional tennis game whose combination of exquisite control and alluring content results in one of the most rewarding sporting experiences around
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