We’ve got to admit, this one came out of nowhere. Sure, we’d seen screenshots and kept an eye on the progress of Sumo Digital’s latest work for Sega, but when we finally got our hands on the final version last week we felt ashamed for not building the hype a little more: this is the best tennis game since Virtua Tennis hit the arcades and the fact that it’s literally full of Seganess seals the deal entirely. If you love your blue skies, you’ll love this.
Sega Superstars Tennis plays almost identically to Virtua Tennis 3, as it’s built using the same engine. The relatively few gameplay tweaks include a simpler control set (cross for hard shot, square for soft, and combos of the two for lobs and drop-shots) and character-specific special powers, triggered by a quick tap of either L1 or R2 after you build up your avatar’s yellow star meter under their feet. Everything else is the same, from the ability to hit the swing button before the ball reaches you to emphasis on the position of the player to determine the power of the return shot.
In fact, if you’ve played a Virtua Tennis game before, Sega Superstars is totally pick-up-and-play, and all the better for it. Of course, this time around you won’t find the likes of Federer and Nadal as anything resembling real life has been thrown out of the window in favour of the bright colours and massive smiles of Sega, and that includes the players, the courts, the crowds and even the umpire (the ‘Crazy’ umpire sadly not all that crazy) with loads of themes pulled from both recent and older Sega titles. Eight are unlocked at first, with one music track, one court and one character from each game, with oodles of goodies to unlock via the main Superstar mode.
Whilst Superstars tennis naturally includes the usual singles and doubles games, both in one-off events and tournament modes, the Superstar mode is the main single player meat here, with a massive selection of mini-games and challenges on each ‘island’ representing a single Sega title. Each game is awarded a score on completion, and some offer unlockable treats along the way as they ramp up in difficulty. Although Sumo were obviously bound by the rules of normal tennis in the construction of these challenges the variation is impressive, and loosely themed to the game in some way too: Beat collecting graffiti cans and making tags on the Jet Set Radio level, for example.
Each game has been lovingly restored and converted to a tennis court and is diverse enough to make each feel almost like an entirely new game. The Samba De Amigo court brought a massive smile on the first play, with the classic music, characters and visual style present throughout the whole match, and there are many others including Space Channel 5, Super Monkey Ball and, obviously, Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s sometimes a little tricky to keep an eye on the ball and the players with all the vivid imagery, but it wouldn’t be the same without the high contrast aesthetics.
The only tweak we didn’t like was the special powers, which are too quick to power up and disruptive when activated (as the game moves away to a cut-scene each time) and although the idea was there, perhaps just a simple speed or power boost would have been more suitable. You’ll see when you play the game – it’s fine for a post pub laugh but in the later throws of the tougher tournaments it can be a real pain in the arse.
But don’t let this minor niggle put you off, Sega Superstars Tennis is brilliant, inventive and as we’ve said before, a Sega fan’s perfect game. Think what Smash Bros does for Nintendo franchies, but tennis and Sega, and you’re in the right mind set. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then we suggest picking up this great game when it launches this Friday.
Note: at the time of writing this review the online portion of the game wasn’t worth commenting on. Despite the presence of a great looking online feature set, including TV mode and even a highlights option, until the game is on the shelves we couldn’t test lag or indeed even how many people were playing. We’ll update this review next week once more folk are logging on. Rest assured that the PS3 version supports voice chat, though.