Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Virtua Tennis 3 (360): Crazy Bad, Crazy Good

I received Virtua Tennis 3 from Gamefly and played it for about three hours.

What an odd game.

The demo lets you play a match, and after I played the demo, I posted that the match engine was just awful.

That is, indeed, correct.

Nets? Who needs nets? The balls never hit them. Balls also almost never go wide or deep. Your opponents don't make mistakes--they just stand so far over to one side of the court that you can hit winner after winner.

Move into the top 200 in the world rankings and you'll play some opponents who do nothing but hit drop shots. Seriously. They'll return your serve, and then their next shot, almost without fail, will be a drop shot.

Of course, since these drop shots never hit the net, there's really no risk in hitting them, at least in terms of missing the shot.

So the tactics of the A.I. opponents are, in general, horrible. And given how rarely balls are hit long or wide, and how the ball never seems to hit the net, the match engine gets an "F."

Oh, and one other thing. Since the most difficult shot in tennis is the half volley, you would reasonably expect that it would be difficult to hit in the game.

Um, no. You'll never miss one.

All of this is a shame, because the graphics, animation, and lighting are absolutely superb. It's some of the best animation I've ever seen in a sports game.

So the matches are crazy bad.

Here's something else that's crazy, though: the mini-games that you play in career mode are fantastic. They're generally very creative, very wacky, and extremely fun. Serve and knock over giant bowling pins. Hit groundstrokes to stop advancing cargo containers (or something) a la Space Invaders. Avoid giant tennis balls rolling down a ramp while you gather up pieces of fruit. Protect prizes that are on a shelf behind you while ball machines fire ball after ball. Hit giant numbered panels with groundstrokes to try to freaking bingo (with a giant card displayed beside the court).

Crazy fun. Crazy good.

The mini-games are so much fun, and there are so many of them, that it's a blast to build your character. Plus there's a tennis academy where you can test your skill and earn medals. It's a wonderful piece of design, which makes me wonder how many people designed this game.

The guy who designed the training mini-games and the career mode in general? A genius.

The guy who designed the in-game match engine? The polar opposite of genius.

So there you go--it's an excellent rental, just to play the mini-games. And it could have been one of the most interesting sports games ever if the match engine had only been competent.

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