March 20, 2007 - Ever since a handful of LEDs on a plastic board became a passable substitute for football, video games have tried their best to recreate the experience of real-life sports. Blinking diodes eventually made way for two-dimensional sprites, which grew into 3D polygons, which in time became so progressively detailed that today's game consoles rival even the graphics put out by the constantly evolving hardware of personal computers. To put it simply, the games we put out these days are way better-looking, look more realistic, and gosh darn it, people like them.

SEGA's Virtua Tennis series has established itself as one of the franchises to beat in its genre. Ever since the release of the first Virtua Tennis in arcades back in 1999, the game has built a reputation for having well-designed gameplay that SEGA was able to preserve from dingy, darkened mall basements to the living room. Part of the game's popularity—besides resting on a foundation of solid graphics and robust game mechanics--lay with its ability to grow the game of tennis from the conventional to the downright fantastical. Mini-games still make up a good portion of the title's content, and any gamer worth his salt would be hard-pressed to deny that it's a the part of the franchise that keeps people coming back.

That said, SEGA asked us to take a look at the mini-games in Virtua Tennis 3. Here's a list of what's in store for this newest rendition of video game tennis goodness:

Pin Crusher
Have you ever walked into a restaurant and wished that they could combine your two favorite things on the menu instead of having to choose between them? The Pin Crusher mini-game in Virtua Tennis 3 lets tennis fans and bowling fans do just that. Fans of the franchise will already be familiar with this game type, but newcomers should take comfort in the fact that the game isn't as cobbled together as it first sounds. All you have to do is serve an oversized tennis ball and try and knock over as many bowling pins on the opposite side of the court as possible. Accuracy is the real name of this game; before you know it you'll be slamming aces down the line with precision.

Schizophrenic? Maybe. Fun? Highly likely.

Part dodge-ball, part Indiana Jones sendoff; Avalanche is all about avoidance and dexterity. In what could possibly be one of the stranger mini-game offerings in Virtua Tennis 3, you find yourself placed smack-dab in the middle of an inclined court playing keep-away with a cascade of giant tennis balls being dumped on you by a large truck. Don't worry; we started getting odd flashbacks when we first heard about this mode too. As if that weren't enough, you're also tasked with collecting as many pieces of runaway fruit as you can. The more fruit you pick up in the fracas, the more points you get. The best part it, despite the utter lunacy of what's going on, you're actually improving your court skills. And you don't even know you're doing it! Neat.

Think Raiders of the Lost Ark, only trippier.

Drum Tropple
You say topple, they say tropple. Eh, let's just call the whole thing fun. Like one of those classic carnival games (only this time it's actually fair), the challenge that's being presented in Drum Tropple is to successfully knock over a stack of red and white storage drums on the other side of the court. The other difference between this mini-game and the one you see in amusements parks is you don't end up with a lame stuffed animal after your umpteenth time pitching the ball and paying through the nose because your pride won't let you leave without getting that damned Spongebob doll. You actually end up with increased swing power, which means that even though it may take you a while, you'll at least leave the mini-game with something legitimate to show for it.

Thrills without the musty scent of shady carnies.

Alien Attack
Right off the strings, this mini-game brings back vivid memories of all those hours you spent watching little marching alien ships chug their way down to your little ship in Space Invaders. In Alien Attack, a hefty row of differently-colored ball launchers make their way down the court in an apparently incessant journey towards reaching the net. Your job is to make sure they don't get there. In a nice display of strategy, each of the ball launchers is colored either red or black. Hitting the black launchers is fine and dandy, but the trick to winning is to aim for the explosive red launchers. Take one out and you'll also clear out several of its comrades from the field. How's that for hitting two proverbial birds with one stone?

Alien ball launchers? NOW we've heard everything.

One of the more conventionally-presented mini-games of the lot, Bulls-Eye's simple design doesn't mean that it's less fun than its more outlandish buddies. The order of the day is to score as many points as you can by landing tennis balls on a set of targets at the opposite side of the court. Like in your standard dive bar darts game, the closer you get to the center of the target, the more points you get. Accuracy plays strongly in this mode as well, and the added challenge of random ball launches and a timer make this mini-game one to remember.

Like lawn darts, only without the chance of getting horribly maimed.

Virtua Tennis 3 is shipping today for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with the PlayStation Portable version due to ship on March 26.

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