Tennis, while relatively easy enough to pick up and understand as a game, isn’t nearly as popular as other sports franchises. You’re not constantly finding seasonal games with tennis “roster updates,” or dynasty features where you try to run the professional league. So you can just imagine that it takes a couple of extra features to attract the hardcore and the occasional fan. Sega has managed to solve this problem by re-releasing one of the most popular tennis titles of all time, repackaging it for Sony’s PSP. Get ready to serve up an ace wherever you go, because we’re hitting the portable court with Virtua Tennis World Tour.
As I said before, tennis is rather easy to pick up, and Virtua Tennis is no different. Aside from setting the power of a serve, you have three shots available to you: a regular topspin shot, a slice shot or a lob. The X, square and circle buttons have these three shots mapped to them, and it’s relatively easy to add a little extra “English” to a swing by using the directional buttons or the analog nub to perform a drop shot or an overhead smash. While you can just swing away at any ball that comes near, Virtua Tennis actually rewards accurate timing with power boosts to your shots, which can make returning a well-placed volley very difficult for an opponent.
Virtua Tennis features a host of modes that you can jump into and play for a few minutes or a few hours, depending on the amount of time you want to devote. I will warn you though – the gameplay can become somewhat addicting once you get into it. You can leap into a quick match, where you’ll choose one of the 16 tennis pros included in the game and pit your tennis skill against a random opponent. You can also set up an exhibition match and play singles or doubles matches against the computer on any court that you choose, or take on all comers in Tournament play in five singles rounds and three doubles rounds.
However, the main thrust of the game comes within the World Tour mode, which lets players challenge for the top ranking in the world with created athletes. Players design a male and female athlete to train from the ground up, and determine everything from their tennis gear to their preferred racket hand and where their home base will be. From there, you start clawing your way into the standings, training your players hard and entering competitions scheduled on the tour calendar. Don’t expect your newly made athletes to be able to adequately compete against the computer right off the bat; they won’t have nearly enough foot speed or power to match up with the tour stars.
That’s where the training mini-games come in – tasks designed to strengthen your serve, footwork, volley or stroke while entertaining you. Basically, it cuts out the drudgery of practices that many people might associate with sports by letting you crush cans, dodge red balls hurled at you or knock down pins, amongst others. Regardless of which mini-game you choose and how successful you are at the game, you’ll boost your athlete’s skills and get a step closer towards being able to win any of those mixed doubles, or singles and doubles matches for men or women. However, you’ll need to pick and choose what games you’ll want to take on and what matches you’ll want to enter, because your players will get tired and will need rests between training and competitions.
Mini-games also have their own place in the Ball Games mode, which give you a chance to set your own high scores in one of four games. Blockbuster is somewhat like Tetris and Breakout, where you send a ball into a series of colored blocks that combine to form larger segments. Fruit Dash tasks you with collecting fruit and avoiding junk food as well as red balls shot at you. Blocker places you in front of your own series of colored blocks and makes you return balls fired from machines trying to clear them out of the way. Finally, Balloon Smash has you serve balls into balloons before the time runs out. Simply put, these games are a ton of fun, and easily engaging once the play against the pros runs out. But if you can gather up to three friends, you can take them on in exhibition, quick match or tournament play via ad hoc or infrastructure play.
Are there any shortcomings? Well, a few. For one, this isn’t so much a sequel to the Virtua Tennis title as much as a port of the older Dreamcast title with a few extra mini-games thrown in. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you might’ve hoped for a little bit of a deeper experience. This particularly comes up within the World Tour feature, when you notice that apart from training and scheduled competitions, the mode is a wee bit shallow. This isn’t to take away from it, because it’s definitely a lot of fun, but not as much as the mini-games that primarily comprise it. As for the control situation, you’re probably going to lean towards the directional pad instead of the analog nub because of the tighter control the pad offers you.
Visually, however, the game looks great. The character models stand out with impressive animations between serves, volleys and the different shots that you’ll take on the various courts. Speaking of the courts, the changes in the court conditions are extremely nice, such as ball imprints on the court (clay in particular) and other items that cast shadows on court surfaces. While the tennis pros aren’t necessarily exact copies of the real players themselves, they do have enough visual similarity to represent the stars. Similarly, you’ll find that the sound effects, particularly the grunts and echo of the ball on the court sounds rather nice in the game.
Virtua Tennis is one of those nice surprises that pulls in more players than just the die-hard tennis fan. Thanks to the numerous mini-games and the World Tour mode, anyone can become a tennis ace. While you’re not necessarily getting anything new in this installment from the older Virtua Tennis title on the Dreamcast, you are getting an excellent tennis title that you can take with you on the go.