Virtua Tennis: World Tour
Their moustaches curl in a wanton motion toward the sun. Their Italian accents are soft and dulcet- a beautiful soundtrack to the slow descent of an autumn evening. They have been rough with me and - as they toss me over to the other side of the wall, delighting in the illicit sound of my limbs cracking and my face bruising - I hear the pair of them scrape their white gloved hands together with satisfaction. "That's what happens to people who don't like the Nintendo DS," Mario shouts as he and his brother Luigi make their swift getaway into the night, "Get out of town. Take your PSP with you!"
The PSP is a superb handheld console and entertainment centre. It is every bit the portable media device its makers dreamed it would become. Yet, a console is nothing without its games. 'Virtua Tennis' makes full use of the PSP's graphics capability and delivers perfect miniature replicas of today's tennis titans for you to mould and manipulate with your fingertips. You can launch your chosen tennis starlet into the arena to play a randomly determined match against a randomly determined opponent. You can serve, volley and develop your backhand shot but you also need to run around the screen as fast as you can in order to return your opponent's shot. The squeak of trainers on the court is reproduced perfectly and the sound effects all add to the engrossing, captivating atmosphere created by an addictive and alluring game for a portable console.
If rapid-fire tennis doesn't appeal, prepare yourself for the tournament setting which allows you to choose one tennis star and take them around the world. Earn money, develop your skills but make sure you win your match or all will be lost. The training levels are superb. One minute you're slamming volley shots into coloured bricks to score points. The next, you're defending those blocks from an automatic barrage of balls brought about by an unremitting, cold tennis ball machine. The "Collect The Fruit" challenge is a touch bizarre but the humour is underscored by the serious objective of dodging an assault of tennis balls. Discover the balloon training level and have yourself a ball as you develop overnight into a world-class tennis player.
On rare occasions, you're not on your own on court. In doubles matches, the game betrays itself and sends one of its players to accompany you in battle. In homage to 'The Sims' you can design, mould and play as one of your own creations. The PSP is a portable console. It has to have at least one game which is perfect for three hour car journeys where you're sat in the back passenger seat, and all you can see out of the window is motorway monotony and your father has just discovered that his new in-car CD player can play those old country music CDs, despite the CDs being caked in dust and lost for three years in the glove compartment. That is the PSP's task, to take you away from routine and place you firmly in the moment. The battery life of the console is better than some would suggest, which means - if the console has been recently fully charged - you can sample the delights of 'Virtua Tennis' without worrying about a flickering symbol in the corner of the screen. There's nothing worse than being the player whose victory over the Wimbledon champion is thwarted by a low battery.
Can you play 'Virtua Tennis' on the move? Yes. But please watch out for lampposts and those new bollards that descend slowly into the underbelly of the road when a car wants to go by but then shoot up unexpectedly and without warning. The headphones that come supplied with the PSP allow you to try your hand at virtual tennis in bed at 3am in the morning without the other half realising. In short, a great game for an increasingly important console.