Virtua Tennis 3 - hands-on

Party Game mode has also been improved and fattened. There are now12 types of mini-game which can be played with up to three human friends (would you have any other type?). One of our favorite new additions is a game of curling (the Winter Olympics' thrilling janitor-on-ice sport) in which you must push the stones toward point targets by pelting them with tennis balls. It's inspired.

The mechanics of the main game, too, have been reworked. It's clear that the CPU-controlled players are much cleverer in Virtua Tennis 3, and their AI seems to quickly pick up on your own habits and style of play, reacting in kind. It's not overly difficult, but you do have to play with imagination if you want to win. It's also great to see that players are no longer moored to the court surface - they can, and do, actually tumble and fall over when they make a dash for a shot that's impossible to reach. And that can cost the player valuable time. All things played, the balance of the gameplay seems close to perfect.

Just as Konami always manages to do with its Winning Eleven soccer sims, Mie Kumagai's team at Sega has found the previously invisible flaws in its own work and removed them all, and has then added new features which broaden the experience beyond what players could rightly have expected. This will be an essential PS3 title when it launches early next year, no doubt about it. Ace, you see.