For far too long it’s felt like tennis has been underrepresented in video games. Fond memories of Top Spin and Virtua Tennis are steadily becoming more and more rose tinted as each year goes by, and a promised renaissance in 2018 felt more like a player coming back from injury a few months too soon. 2020’s crop of tennis games have demonstrated much more promise so far.
The first Tennis World Tour was not particularly well received, with developer Breakpoint deciding to explore a number of new and intriguing ideas within the usual tennis formula, ultimately taking the game away from what tennis fans really wanted to see. It was like, after staggering through the desert for days and finding yourself in an oasis, being handed a bottle of thick and syrupy fruit juice. It left you just as thirsty, if not more-so.
So for the sequel, Nacon have kept some of the same intent, of trying to capture the more strategic elements of the game, but blended it with more of the traditional style of tennis game that gamers know and love. Gone is a lot of the predictive nature of the first game, the cards system has been retuned, and you’re given much more feedback on how you’re playing. To pull this off, they’ve turned to Big Ant Studios, the team behind their own homegrown AO Tennis series.
Without a tutorial in the preview build to lead us into the renewed gameplay, it was a struggle to get to grips with the game. The timing, the placement, the leeway that you have in shot selection; this is not a simple pick up and play arcade game like Virtua Tennis, and instead hews closer to the likes of AO Tennis 2 (quelle surprise) and Top Spin.
As you position yourself on the court, you power up your shot (whether flat, top spin, slice, lob or whatever0, letting go at hopefully just the right time to swing and send the ball flying back across the court. Get the timing wrong and your accuracy can be way off, either dropping the ball short without enough power, or flying long and losing you the point, but get the timing just right and you’ll hit the sweet spot, able to nail the white line and put your opponent under pressure. There’s a rhythm to it, and it’s this that I struggled to consistently get right, but there was always instant feedback from the game to say whether I was on time, too early or too late.
Simpler to grasp is the new serve system, with an initial gauge swinging from left to right above your player to time your toss and serving action. Get it your second button press just right, and the shot is straighter and with more power.
Tennis World Tour 2 retains some of those more strategic elements from the original, with player stamina having an impact through a match. You can see the stamina levels of both yourself and your opponent draining through longer rallies and service games, potentially giving you a lifeline as unforced errors creep into their game or pushing you to play more conservatively.
The cards system also returns, intending to add more variability to a match and capturing the way that a close game can swing back and forth, but has been reworked to be a more active part of gameplay instead of being more passive buffs. You can select five cards and trigger them them mid-match, letting you boost your player in Endurance, Power, Precision and Agility. Some cards, however, affect and diminish your opponent and it’s this that feels a bit too game-like about the system, in my opinion.
At the very least, all of the percentage-based buffs and debuffs mean that they’re relatively slight modifiers, and despite them being picked out of packs bought from a store on the main menu, you can only earn in-game currency from actually playing the game, not microtransactions.
The other thing I can’t shake is that, even with the promise of twice as many character animations in the game, there’s still a certain rigidity to the players and the actions they take on court. There can be snaps from one animation to another, I sometimes felt that the game didn’t want to let me change direction once I spotted that a drop shot was coming in, and it definitely felt like there was just a single animation for losing a point. Hopefully the final weeks of polish can help smooth out some of the rougher edges here.
The game launches with a decent selection of game modes, from exhibition matches to a career and online. A Tournament section will feature the as yet unannounced licensed tournaments, as well as a Tie Break Tens mode for ultra-fast quick-fire matches. One neat addition is the ability to save and resume a match, letting you line up a five set epic without also having to carve out a few hours of uninterrupted time in order to finish it.
There’s also doubles, which was conspicuous by its absence from the first game, and adds a very different style of tennis to the game, where lightning fast reactions are needed to win. This mode can also be taken online, with two players to a console, though strangely not with players spread across four consoles.
Putting all of this in practice, Tennis World Tour 2 plays a decent game of tennis once you get used to it. There’s a definite learning curve as you settle into the groove to find the right shot timing rally after rally, and from that point on the strategy of a point, game, set and match can start to come to the fore. Tennis World Tour 2 is certainly a safer take on the sport than the original was, but sometimes you’ve just got to land a shot in court to stay in the rally.