Though it started in the arcades, Sega's Virtua Tennis series has been met with success--perhaps not always financial--on every platform it's been brought to. From the Dreamcast to the GBA, all iterations of Virtua Tennis were tight, inherently enjoyable versions of the game. Unfortunately, Sega's luck has just run out, as the new Virtua Tennis for the N-Gage, which is essentially a stripped-down version of Virtua Tennis for the GBA, just doesn't do the franchise any justice.
The beauty of Virtua Tennis has always been its accessibility, which remains intact here. There are just two buttons used for swinging at the ball: one for a regular groundstroke and one for a lob (the latter of which is good for pushing back an opponent who's standing a little too close to the net). You start holding your swing button just as the ball passes over the net. If you hold a direction on the D pad at the same time you swing, it will dramatically affect the flight path of the ball. This is, essentially, how Virtua Tennis has worked in all its other incarnations. Unfortunately, the problem with Virtua Tennis on the N-Gage is that the game runs much, much slower than it does on the Game Boy Advance. In fact, it's slower than any other version available. What were once quick, blink-and-it's-over volleys have become slow and tedious affairs.
The game offers little to distract from the lethargic action. You can get a basic single-player game in the arcade and exhibition modes, or you can play with up to three other players over a Bluetooth connection in the exhibition mode. The world tour mode puts you through a series of big tournaments, but unlike other takes on Virtua Tennis, there's no training, no stat-building, or any other peripheral gameplay elements to make up for the otherwise slow, monotonous action on the court.
The visual elements aren't that bad and look about the same as they do on the Game Boy Advance. The N-Gage's vertical screen orientation is actually more fitting for the three-quarters perspective of the court you're given. The graphical problems in Virtua Tennis start rearing their ugly head once you start moving around, as the players and the ball both seem to be missing lots of frames of animation, thus making the game look slow and jerky. For some reason, the game sees fit to put you on the backcourt even when you're playing solo, which gives you a slightly awkward perspective on the action and just seems unnecessary. There's also the issue of load times, which are lengthy and come up often, even when there aren't any new graphical elements being introduced, such as when you're simply changing sides on the court. The sound, which consists of Virtua Tennis' trademark cheesy guitar rock and the sound of the racquet making contact with the ball, is occasionally punctuated by a little cheer from the crowd. All of these effects sound grainy and poorly compressed, and the crowd effect sounds like white noise.
During the process of being ported to the N-Gage, Virtua Tennis was crippled pretty severely. The lack of gameplay options is unfortunate but forgivable. The slow pacing and choppy animation, however, irreparably damage the gameplay experience, thus turning something that was intended to be fast-paced and fun into something that is now leaden.