tennis disk 88.
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Virtua Tennis 3, a DVD-ROM in English by Sega, distributed with a 30-page English-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP and up and a 2 ghz Pentium PC or better, for ages three and up, NIS 199.
Rating: **** 1/2
Sitting in a chair opposite your computer screen, you won't sweat when you virtually play championship tennis against some of the greatest contemporary stars, but you will release plenty of adrenaline. This well-made, enjoyable video game is the closest one can get to the real thing.
Playable on five levels of difficulty from very easy to very hard, Virtua Tennis 3 (for some reason, probably commercial, the name is not "Virtual") combines playing with tones of role-playing, as you produce for yourself a customized playing identity, read e-mails from your coach and compete to win tournaments. Points you win can be traded for new shirts, shoes, racquets and other accessories.
Even before you create your own player, start with five clever and helpful mini-games, which serve as training. In the Bull's Eye, you hit the center of a circle with the ball to hone your return volley skills and improve your aim; when you hit the bull's eye, the whole target lights up. In the Pin Crusher, you are given two chances for each round against bowling pins on the other side of the net; knock down as many as you can with your serve while practicing aim and power moderation. The Drum Topple sets up a pyramid of red oil drums that must be floored with your tennis ball. This exercise helps build powerful return strokes, as does Alien Attack, in which you return the ball to destroy approaching aliens before they reach the barricade. Finally in Avalanche, you maneuver the player right and left quickly and bump into fruit rolling toward you - but keep out of the path of giant cascading tennis balls. This exercise teaches you fancy footwork and speed.
Once you've graduated from the training sessions, choose your identity as a male or female player. Pick your name, skin and eye color, face, nose and mouth shape. Select your hairstyle (some are indeed wild looking and not suitable for Wimbledon), eyebrow and beard styles and colors (the beard is, fortunately, only for male players). Then pick your physique by determining height in centimeters and weight in kilos. Choose a tennis outfit and headgear, and then you're free to decide if your player is right- or left-handed and pick postures and backhand styles.
The next option is selecting a position on the World Tour Map to build your home base; just rotate the map with the directional keys and pick a spot and return home from anywhere on the map by clicking one key. You are presented with a tour calendar, for which you must be in top form. Keep an eye on your stamina gauge to avoid fatigue by downing energy drinks, taking a rest at home or going on a vacation. If after a "20-year" career you have yet to reach the No. 1 ranking, you will be retired from the game permanently and have to create a new identity.
You can take to the courts and play as or against 20 licensed pro players, mostly men such as Ron Federer and Andy Roddick, but also a few women like Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams and Martina Hingis (but alas, not yet our Shahar Pe'er). Weight, height, age, play type and preferred hand are given for each, helping you to make your choices. Playing singles is fun, but playing doubles, with yourself matched with someone on your side of the net against two opponents, is speedier and more challenging.
Throughout the play, you use only three keys with your left hand (to select shot types such as top spin, slice or lob), and four keys with your right hand for the directions to move. Your timing and where you stand on the court enables you to smash or do a running shot or drop shot. The games interface is very good and intuitive, even if you've never played tennis on a court before, and the artificial intelligence is superior.
Catchy music is played during games, but you can hardly see the audience (although this is not very important). The graphics engine is so superior that you can see the bottom of tennis skirts and shorts waving realistically in the wind. Players wipe sweat off their foreheads and nervously switch their racquets from hand to hand. Ballboys move their heads from side to side as they watch the action.
Sega has definitely scored with Virtua Tennis 3. It's for everyone, even from the designated age of three through adults. Tennis, anyone?