There have been a number of tennis games throughout the ages on consoles, and like all sports games it’s somewhat difficult to deviate from the basic rules that make the sports what they are in the first place. As far as tennis games go, we’ve had some wacky additions to spice things up a little, such as Outlaw Tennis, but fundamentally the basic premise of hitting a ball over a net towards an opponent remains. So here we are with SEGA’s attempt at bringing something new to the tennis game, despite having the popular Virtua Tennis series under their belts. SEGA Superstars Tennis (SST) could be described as being far removed from the Virtua Tennis games and perhaps this is to the game’s credit, as SST offers some fresh tennis antics to the mix which most certainly jazz up the basic tennis gameplay.
SST presents players with several modes of play which includes the standard singles/doubles exhibition matches. Ball Games – this mode allows you to play solo or multiplayer the mini games you’ve unlocked, Tournament Mode which is like any other tournament game and finally the meat of the single player experience Superstars mode. There’s also a final option to take the game online and battle opponents across the globe.
The Superstars mode is probably the best place to start because it’s here where you’ll unlock additional characters, more courts and mini games. Basically you have a number of events which are available from the start with more unlocked as you complete challenges within them. Each event area is themed on a specific SEGA game and includes the likes of Sonic, Outrun, Samba Da Amigo, Space Channel 5, Monkeyball, House of the Dead and Space Harrier, to name but a few. Each area can be visited once unlocked and within the areas you can undertake various challenges that range from standard single tennis matches or tournaments, to the more obscure mini games type challenges. The mini games challenges come in a wide variety of guises and are themed on the area you are in, so for example the House of Dead challenges require you to shoot tennis balls at incoming zombies or simply run around the House of the Dead themed court avoiding zombies for as long as you can. There are usually several mini game types to mess around with and once completed you are graded based on score. If you pass the challenge you’ll unlock additional challenges as well as extra soundtracks and such like. It’s all a very simple process and to begin some challenges are fairly easy to score the maximum points, whereas some of the later challenges can become quite tricky.
Basically you work through all the themed areas and unlock more areas until you’ve completed them all, which in turn unlocks the hidden characters and stages for use in the other modes. The characters are all SEGA classics and include the likes of Ulala from Space Channel 5, Sonic & Tails, Amy, Shadow from the Sonic games; Beat and Gum from Jet Set Radio and more. Each character falls into a category which determines their play style, there’s Speed, Power, Control, All Round and Spin which are pretty self explanatory.
Playing the actual game of tennis is straight forward as you basically have three buttons to use. You can pretty much do all the basic slice and normal strokes and depending on how you aim you can determine how far from the net the ball will land – the engine is remarkably similar to Virtua Tennis, so if you’re used to this then you’ll have no problems at all. In fact, the basic game is very easy to get into, and with some very forgiving AI most gamers will have a field day with minimum frustration all round. To inject some madness into the basic tennis game there are some special moves available for each character. Once their star has built up, they can unleash a special attack which for the best part disorientates your opponent briefly and allows you to get a sneaky point in. I found that using the specials wasn’t necessary to win and at times confused me as well. Luckily the AI doesn’t spam the special moves either, thus creating a very relaxing game overall.
SST looks pretty sharp and it’s great to see hi resolution renditions of old games environments although if you look closely you’ll see that some of the old textures have made it through as well. Perhaps this is deliberate for nostalgia’s sake but for the most part you get to relive the old classics in all their glory again. The overall look is very clean and fluid with totally smooth gameplay throughout. The character models look slick and animate extremely well, I especially liked the way Ulala danced whilst waiting or standing on the spot. All of the themed stages are very representative of the games they are based on and you’ll spot plenty of cameo characters mulling around in the background – which is nice touch.
The sound is a mixed bag for me because on one hand you’ve got some rather great classic music to listen to whilst playing, so that includes Passing Breeze Euro Mix on the Outrun courts to fire you up. You can unlock more tunes to select during matches and it’s rather cool that you’ve got the themes and music to suit the level your playing on. However, on the other hand and a negative is there’s little to no atmosphere beyond the music and simple ball hitting sounds. So that means no audience, which somewhat makes the game of tennis feel less alive. You’ve also got the SEGA voices for the characters, although sadly it seems each character is limited to one or two phrases. This can begin to grate after a while.
SST is not the longest of games for the single player, and if you stick with it you’ll unlock everything quite quickly. The game on the default setting is relatively easy and for the most part you’ll breeze through without too much fuss. The longevity for this title comes with the four player multiplayer offline or taking the game online and testing your mettle with other players around the globe. As an offline party style game, then there’s certainly some scope for a good time to be had by all, especially when you factor the cool soundtrack and wacky mini games.
I’ve enjoyed playing Sega Superstars Tennis and found that to really appreciate the game you are going to have to be a SEGA fan. For gamers who haven’t been gaming as long as some of us, a lot of the themes are going to be lost on them as they won’t know who Ulala is or what Space Harrier is all about. There’s a distinct nod towards the Sega Saturn/Dreamcast generation of gamers and if you were an owner of either or both of those machines you’ll instantly feel at home with the character selection on offer. It’s easy to wonder why certain characters from other SEGA franchises do not appear, but I guess you can’t have it all. I think SEGA covered most bases well enough, although there’s a distinct slant towards the Sonic characters (SEGA’s most popular franchise).
I found the game to be somewhat on the easy side using default settings and a number of the achievements easy to grab as well. Perhaps the game is geared towards the younger gamer in a sense. Being on the easy side does make the game a relaxing experience and I found that rather than get frustrated at cheap AI, I could easily focus on playing the game and enjoying it for what it was.
SST is a decent foray into the tennis genre, but rather than rely on the basic game, throws lots of diversity into the mix with its mini games and challenges. For me this worked really well as the additional games added a lot of personality to proceedings as well as provided some much loved nostalgia. If you are looking for a decent party game or have a fondness for SEGA characters then SST is well worthy of your time. If you are just looking for a game to while away the hours then I suggest renting first.