PSP Review: Virtua Tennis

As long as it’s polygonal, you can’t screw up Virtua Tennis. The sprite-based mess that was on the Game Boy Advance and the PSP version prove that. Opponents of Sony’s portable hardware can argue for as long as they want about the number of ports being shoveled onto the system. They’re the ones missing out on one of the best sports games ever created, and this time out, you’re not stuck at home with it.

Piece for piece a carbon copy of Virtua Tennis 2, this addictive update to Pong makes a name for itself in the World Tour Mode. Introduced on the Dreamcast, here you will build your tennis player into a superstar by playing the best in the game today. Tagging along will be a partner of the opposite sex, and this is the sole annoyance in this title.

While the original Virtua Tennis had players focusing on their own character, the sequel makes you control two in the World Tour. It’s a system that has never fully been implemented. For instance, because the second player must be of a different sex, you can’t use them in standard doubles matches. Instead, you’ll need to spend outrageous amounts of money to gain a contract with a pro player, funds that would be well spent on better hardware to affect on-court play. It also artificially extends the game, cheaply doubling its length. Instead of new challenges, you’re forced to repeat the same ones constantly.

The again, when they’re as much fun as the ones included here, who cares? The mini-games are legendary, and have been from the moment this series made its first appearance. Combining bowling with tennis sounds ridiculous, but spend 10 minutes with that combo and you’ll never see daylight again. It’s impossible to think of a better way to increase stats to make your player stronger.

Controls on the PSP work fine, offering responsive, quick, and accurate controls. If you’ve mastered this one before, you’ll have no problem doing so here. The ball seems to have been brightened and it’s slightly larger, both worthy compromises to make the game work on the PSP’s mega-screen. There’s a missed opportunity due to the lack of Infrastructure support, but given the broad appeal, Ad Hoc will likely serve you well.

Outside of the World Tour, there’s nothing unique to do aside from four separate mini-games. The bizarre Fruit game involves the player running around, dodging unhealthy foods and red balls being shot at them, while collecting fruit. Only in Virtua Tennis would this not only make sense, but also be fun at the same time.

With a built-in fan base, Virtua Tennis in portable form is an obvious seller. When the translation is handled like this, it’s even better. Lacking online play is forgivable since the single player title takes weeks to get through. With a dry software library, it’s all the easier to accept this one as a necessity.

(**** out of *****)

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