Virtua Tennis should bring back fond memories for Dreamcast owners. Despite the console lacking EA sports titles, and a crippling lack of good football (soccer) games, SEGA made up for it with their own line-up of sports titles. One of the best was Virtua Tennis. Originally an arcade game running on the Naomi arcade board, it was ported to the Dreamcast and proved to be a huge hit. It, and its sequel, will go down in history as two of the system's most loved games. It's been some time since we saw a proper Virtua Tennis title, but SEGA and Sumo Digital (of Outrun 2 Xbox port fame) have brought the series to the PSP as a European launch title. Have they served an ace or double faulted?
Anyone familiar with previous Virtua Tennis games will feel right at home, as this is essentially the same game, ported over to the PSP. Serving is carried out using a simple two-click power metre combined with a direction, and rally shots (top-spin, slice and lob) are performed using the X, Circle and Square buttons. How early you are in position for the shot and the height at which you hit the ball determines the shot strength. Drop shots, volleys and smashes can also all be performed when in the right position.
While this suggests that the game will play identically to previous games in the series, it really all comes down to the PSP's analogue stick, and how you feel about it. While you can play the game with the D-pad, getting used to the stick will serve you better in the end as it offers more precise control. It's the looseness of the stick that will cause most problems, especially if you've stuck to the D-pad for most other PSP games. Practice does improve things, but it simply doesn't play as well as it did on the Dreamcast or PlayStation 2. However, it's very close, and probably as good as we're going to get on current handhelds.
Despite Virtua Tennis' arcade roots, VT: World Tour offers plenty for your money. As well as the expected Quick Match, Tournament and Exhibition modes, VT: World Tour offers Ball Games, Multiplayer, and the World Tour mode referred to in the game's title. There are four ball games to play (a rather disappointing number), with the objective in each to achieve the highest score. It's simple stuff - destroying blocks, popping balloons, collecting fruit and defending blocks - but they do provide some 'one more go' appeal that will see you are your friends competing for top spot on the leader board.
Multiplayer support is limited to AD HOC mode, meaning that each player will require a copy of the game, and be within close proximity of one another, but if you can get a group of four together, four-player doubles matches are bound to be a lot of fun. The lack of Game Sharing is extremely disappointing, as it would have made multiplayer games far more likely, but seeing as this is a launch title, we can forgive it.
The World Tour mode, then, is the main single-player component of the game. You create a male and female player and then compete in competitions around the world to try and become the #1 ranked players. This is essentially the game's career mode and your players' attributes can be increased by taking part in training sessions, and new equipment can be bought using prize money earned from taking part in and winning competitions. To get both of your players to the #1 spot will take a fair amount of time, and things do get tricky once you reach the more prestigious tournaments.
The visuals have been ported over to the PSP very well, and look just as sharp and bright as they did on the Dreamcast, albeit on a small screen. World Tour includes fourteen of the top players in the world, and they've been modelled excellently - easily recognisable by anyone who follows the sport. The big names include the likes of Tim Henman, Roger Federer, Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova, giving the game some much needed star appeal.
Unfortunately there are problems, but they're not so bad that your enjoyment of the game is ruined. Most noticeable is the slight pause just before the umpire announces the score after each point is played. It's really not as bad as it sounds, but sticks out among the game's otherwise impeccable presentation. There are also some lengthy load times between menus and games, which do start to grate, especially during the World Tour mode. VT: World Tour is by no means the worst offender among the PSP's launch line-up, but it's annoying all the same.
Virtua Tennis: World Tour is a fine sports title for the PSP. It combines rich, colourful visuals with simple, but addictive gameplay. The single-player and multiplayer game modes on offer should please anyone interested in the sport, and while there are a few problems that prevent it from being a true classic, it still ranks among the best launch titles for the handheld. So, like Tim Henman, not the best in the world, but pretty damn good.