‘Virtua Tennis 3’

Diehard Sega Dreamcast fans – oh, they’re out there – swear by the original “Virtua Tennis,” released in the U.S. in 2000. Real Dreamcast fanatics also swear by “Virtua Tennis 2,” not only because of numerous improvements over the original, but because it was one of the last games made for the system before Sega’s console division was dissolved.

Since the idea of a Dreamcast II is nothing more than a Sega fanboy’s wet dream, both the PS3 and the 360 have added “Virtua Tennis 3.”

Sports games typically fall somewhere between being rigid simulations of the sport in question, and a simplified, even arcade-like rendition that is more accessible to rookies.

“Virtua Tennis 3” suffers from identity crisis.

While the third installment offers a fairly robust career mode, complete with a decent character creator, the actual gameplay is ridiculously simple. Not “Wii Sports” simple, but clearly not a rote simulation. The series standby minigames (dodging giant tennis balls while collecting fruit is even more endearing than it sounds) are scattered about the world map and help increase different abilities. Tournaments open on a weekly in-game schedule and are specific to the player’s global rank.

“VT3” features 20 licensed tennis stars, ranging from Venus Williams to Roger Federer. Normally, the inclusion of licensed players helps the presentation of sports games, but with only a handful to choose from, and a ranking system from 300 to one, opponents never change. Acing Andy Roddick in a rookie match just makes no sense – especially when he’s ridiculously difficult at rank 60. A seemingly small oversight, but it kills any immersion this excellent-looking game had.

Gameplay, as previously mentioned, is easy to pick up, but loses intrigue quickly. “VT3” returns to the series’ origin: the arcade. Despite the fairly deep career mode, online tournament play and a polished look, “Virtua Tennis 3” boils down to little more than an extended arcade game.