Mini-games dominate Sega’s nostalgic tennis game.
As a child, my enjoyment of the Sega Genesis spawned the misguided nostalgic affinity I have for all things Sega. This the main reason why I was interested in Sega’s new Smash Bros. meets Mario Tennis game, Sega Superstars Tennis. While filled with some creative ideas, the game is hampered by an imprecise control scheme that doesn’t meet the high standards set by similar titles such as Wii Sports.
For any Sega fan, this is a trip down memory lane. With a choice between sixteen characters coming from such disparate titles as Sonic the Hedgehog, NiGHTS and Golden Axe, the company roster is satisfactorily represented. There are eight different stages to choose from and while there are a few series that are unrepresented, the character and stage list is adequate and there are certainly some pleasant surprises in the batch.
The gameplay is typical tennis fare. It’s playable with up to four people, but it’s really nothing inventive or groundbreaking. The only substantially different aspect is the Superstar mode that builds up as you play. Once your Superstar meter builds up (represented by a star underneath your character that gradually fills in), you are able to pull off an often hard- to- control special shot that might daze your opponent with stray maracas or turn you into Super Sonic. While these moves are occasionally visually dazzling and might usher in a laugh or two, they don’t seem to do too much in terms of bettering your game.
Neither do the controls in some cases. There are four different control schemes used in the game, and some work much better than others. The Wii Remote by itself plays similarly to Wii Sports Tennis except it is not as robust, and doesn’t give you any difference from a backhand and a forehand. The second option is my preferred method of play: a combination of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. The Nunchuk’s analog stick controls your character and you swing the Wii Remote to hit the ball. Unlike the remaining control schemes (Sideways Remote and the Classic Controller), which have overly complicated ways to perform lobs and drop shots (hitting 1 and then 2 in a rhythmic fashion), the Remote-Nunchuk pairing has lobs and drops assigned to either A or B on the Remote. Nonetheless, the Sideways Remote and Classic Controller work fine.
The motion controls prove problematic at times. There is a long downtime every time you swing, during which your character goes through the motion and is then stuck in a static position. While playing the single player mode’s doubles games, I would often be competing with an erratic computer companion who would steal shots from me and cause me to get caught in swing downtime. This often kills games, since your opponents can then hit a solid shot that stumps both of you as you are left lingering in your post-swing position.
The meat and potatoes of the game are contained in the single player Superstar mode. This mode has you playing through various stages containing an overwhelming amount of mini-games and the occasional tennis match. By beating these various missions, you unlock new characters, courts and music. The stages and missions are fun (and a smile might come to your face as you unlock such stages as Chu Chu Rocket and Puyo Pop), but they’re very repetitive. There may be ten missions in a stage, but they are all basically the same mini-game with a plodding introduction as to how the game is played. Nonetheless, there is a considerable amount to do in this mode, and it should take you somewhere between five and ten hours to complete it in its entirety.
While the tennis aspect of this game is a reproduction of the same game we’ve been playing on real courts for years, the mini-games are where Superstars Tennis really takes creative license. Sega staples such as Space Harrier, House of the Dead, and six others are given a tennis makeover. Space Harrier has you playing the shooter with a Sega character armed with a racket and balls, while House of the Dead has you turning back an endless supply of the undead with a zombie-killing tennis ball.
Not all of the mini-games are all that creative and fun, however; there are some duds in the bunch, such as the Sonic the Hedgehog game in which you frantically collect rings while dodging spiked balls and bombs. It just seems very out of place in a tennis game when the mini-game has no relevance to tennis besides the fact that it takes place on a court. While all mini-games can be played cooperatively with up to four people, it often clutters the screen with too many characters.
All in all, Sega Superstars Tennis has decent controls but suffers from a somewhat shallow tennis design. Its mini-games are definitely its highlight but once the novelty of them wears off, you’ll probably want to play the original titles rather than continue playing this one. I’d highly recommend it to Sega fans, as there is enough nostalgia to help you get though the repetitive and boring parts, but non-Sega fans won’t find enough to generate lasting interest.