Tennis isn't exactly one of those sports games that people get terribly excited over. You don't see any yearly tennis franchises out there, so a good tennis game is hard to find. Luckily, Virtua Tennis features an easy control scheme, great graphics, and exciting gameplay that will probably manage to rope in a few non-tennis fans along the way.
Because Virtua Tennis is a port of an arcade game, its main mode is nice and short. You pick one of several real-life tennis players, choose singles or doubles play, and move through several stages of increasing difficulty. There's also an exhibition mode that lets you choose a court, put two or four players on it, and play for kicks. You can also customize the rules, setting the number of wins required to end a match, disabling the advantage rule, and so on. Exhibition mode also serves as the game's best mode for multiplayer games, which are a real blast. The meat of the single-player game is in its questlike world-circuit mode. In the world circuit, you start out staring at a world map, as you do in Street Fighter Alpha 3's world-tour mode. Different spots on the map correspond to different challenges. Some are simple singles matches, some are doubles, and some are minigames in which you train. The training levels, which include activities such as aiming at bowling pins, lobbing tennis balls into cans, knocking boxes off the court, and aiming at a bull's-eye target painted on the court, are all pretty cool. Along the way, you'll be earning money, which can be spent in the tennis shop. In the shop, you can unlock extra tennis players for the game's other modes, purchase new outfits, and contract partners so that you can play in world-circuit doubles matches.
The control mirrors the old Nintendo Tennis game for the NES - you use one button for standard swings and another for lobs. Of course, you have significantly more control over the ball, as you can push in a direction while hitting the ball to aim it at different parts of the court. This lets you force the opposing player to run back and forth quite a bit. While it's pretty easy to judge the ball's trajectory and get to it when you're playing on the close side of the court, you'll have to get used to judging the ball's location using only its shadow when you're playing on the far side of the court, which makes for a slightly tougher match. But after a few matches, you'll get used to playing on both sides of the court. In one-player games, you can use an alternate camera angle that gives you a behind-the-back view of the action, but this makes it even harder to properly judge the ball.
The character models have a nice look to them. The players are realistic, with little features like fingers and teeth. Of course, these little touches are noticeable only during the replay mode, which shows a close-up of the action, using an exaggerated version of the blurring effect made popular by Metal Gear Solid. On the audio side, things like balls hitting rackets and on-court voices all sound very nice, but they're a bit marred by a few tracks of bothersome, poppy guitar-rock.
Tennis fans should be in heaven after playing Virtua Tennis. While the game doesn't exactly have a simulation-styled approach, it's definitely a blast to play, and the multiplayer and world-circuit options give it replay value regardless of how many controllers you have.