Sega and arcade games go hand in hand like obesity and donuts; one of the original exponents is still ticking along nicely every year, releasing numerous games that eventually make their way onto the home consoles. One such franchise is found in the horrendously spelt Virtua Tennis series. While the series has pushed through onto its third version, the basics have remained, well basically, the same. Dumb down the technical aspects and up the fun factor, Sega simply succeeds (try saying that five times fast) by knowing what its audience wants.
At the heart of the PSP Virtua Tennis 3 lays the 10-year odyssey that is the World Tour mode. Starting off as a lowly 300 in the professional ranks, it’s up to you to move your chosen player all the way to the coveted number one spot, claiming the many tournament trophies along the way. The World Tour mode is broken down into various sections and mini-games, each of which must be mastered in order for your player to access the higher level “Gran Slam” tournaments and truly be the best of the best.
Splitting your time between resting, playing tournaments and raising your skills in various mini-games is vital. Spending too long without resting means your player will be more susceptible to injury and could spend lengthy spells on their backs with sprains or possibly worse. While conversely spending all your time in resting or in tournaments means your ranking may rise but your stats will suffer as a result. Crucial to the planning of your career is a careful consideration of the ever-handy calendar Sega provides, listing important tournaments and the breaks between.
Each practice mini-game focuses on a different skill set and can vary between smashing serves into inflated bowling pins to keeping crocodiles at bay with precisely aimed volleys. The mini-games are varied enough and challenging enough to keep the long ten-year slog interesting while waiting for the next accessible tournament to roll around. The Tennis Academy area also gives you a chance to focus on one specific action within the context of an actual match, starting out simple but becoming fiendishly hard at the highest level.
As you progress through the World Tour you will open up new and more difficult practice events and win ever more powerful rackets and stylish gear. While not being on the same level as a Tiger Woods PGA Tour, the rewards are well suited to the style of game presented.
When taking a rest from the arduous ten years of the World Tour, Virtua Tennis 3 also allows players to take part in pick-up tournaments or exhibition matches using one of the many licensed professionals, including the ever-popular Maria Sharapova and world number one Roger Federer. The mini-games can also be practiced with any of the assorted ‘name’ players outside of the World Tour proper.
The matches themselves are slick and polished; Sega has tweaked the series well with each successive game and it responds excellently with controls that are simple yet deep enough to handle the nuances involved in the sport. The crowd “ohhs” and “ahhs” at all the right moments and the music is subtle enough not to get annoying. Matches could have a slightly more statistical aspect to them at the conclusion for the anorak wearing gamers out there but Sega shows why many consider the Virtua Tennis series to be the greatest arcade sports title out there.