Lately on the Wii and DS, Sega have been on a bit of a roll with Ghost Squad and House of the Dead both selling fairly well for old games, but their main success comes from the Mario and Sonic and the Olympics games, which has sold well into the millions. Sega are trying to keep that momentum going with their latest title, Sega Superstar Tennis on both the Wii and DS, a tennis game which acts as Sega’s dirty mistress giving the fans what they want.. in tennis form.
We will be looking at the DS version in this review (although it’s surprisingly close to the white box’s version) which is staggeringly impressive.
The game starts off with a nice CGI opening of the starting characters all playing tennis, letting the player know of their names (in case they never played the series with that character in) and showing off their skills.
There is definitely a feeling that the team said ‘screw the story, lets just make a really cool game’ and I think that’s probably the best way to tackle a game where none of the characters have a point at which they can meet. I’m glad they didn’t place it in the Sonic universe but kept it neutral with several stage themes. In-game graphics are fairly impressive and detailed for a DS game, everything runs smoothly and until you’re up close and personal it looks pretty high quality. Stages look as they would in each different game with themed levels of Sonic, Jet Set Radio, Nights, Samba de Amigo and even House of the Dead! I only noticed on one stage some textures on the floor which weren’t very good and almost made the ball invisible which definitely hindered my play.
Sound is equally impressive in the game with it using similar tracks from the Wii version and the same voice acting also used. Not all the songs are great, but their quality is good for a DS game. They sound even better when using headphones but that’s usually the case with most DS games.
One of most important things with games requiring precise aim is controls. The scary thing about Sega Superstar Tennis on the DS is that controls are set to buttons rather than touch screen control. Now many people might just not care but when I found this out it made me worry about Sega’s confidence in their touch screen controls.
Unfortunately after playing using the touch screen for a little over a hour I found I couldn’t put up with it anymore. Touch screen controls feel broken, unresponsive and sluggish, it’s a big shame but I think the controls could have done with a lot more work. The biggest issue with the touch controls is that the action takes place on the top screen, making it very hard to be precise using the bottom screen. Response times also add to this problem as actions don’t happen as fast as you would like them to and you also partially lose functionality. Finally with touch screen controls specials seem to go off whenever they feel like it, you don’t feel like you have control on what’s going on.
The D-pad controls have been set as default for a reason, they are just plain better. While using the d-pad you get back the responsiveness that the console version has and also you can charge shots depending on button presses. It all works very nicely and I recommend you leave the default the way it is.
The character list to be used is pretty impressive and any Sega fan will be impressed with the range of non Sonic characters Sega have gone for, that’s not to say I wouldn’t of liked to see some Streets of Rage characters in there as well (Note – I wont be writing the list of characters in the game for those who want to be surprised when you unlock them, I’m pretty sure you can find a list on Wikipedia if you really want to find out). When you start you have about half of the character list, most being the well known Sega characters with plenty more unlocked through play. Each character has their own strength in a similar to Mario and Sonic at the Olympics, Sonic is speedy while Amy is an all rounder.
Every character has a power up which you can unleash upon the enemy, it’s a bit of a shame that the power ups are pretty rubbish when used and most of the time just makes the ball spin around the court. I’m glad the power ups only last one point and I’m even happier at the fact you can turn them off.
While most sports are multiplayer orientated I’m glad Sega have put a fair amount of single player options in. you’ve got the basic Quick Play, where the computer does everything for you and you jump straight into a match, Tournament, which puts you (and possibly a AI partner) in a tournament for 3 different cups (this unlocks characters!), High Score and Mission, which lets you play small minigames involving certain Sega games such as Virtual Cop, Puyo Pop or Chu Chu Rocket. All of the modes are fun and involving and most have benefits like extra courts or unlockable characters.
Away from single player, multiplayer has your standard modes of play with Single-Card and Multi-Card both available (however Single-Card takes a while to upload) which run well and shockingly enough Wifi. The reason its so shocking is because the Wii version doesn’t have Wifi, but we will get into that when we check out the Wii version. Wifi play runs smooth and the matches I had were fun and fast, as always Nintendo have allowed you to play with your friends at the sacrifice of a long numbered code.
Before I do my closing comments on the review may I just applaud Sega for doing something a lot of games SHOULD do, add in rumble support. Yes, that’s correct, stop rubbing your eyes, this game has rumble support. I know only a small percentage of DS owners have rumble packs, I know an even smaller percentage of DS Lite owners have rumble packs (especially in Europe, as they were never released here and you have to import the little buggers). But that doesn’t mean games shouldn’t include the feature. I’m impressed Sega added in such a small feature that I enjoy having and when it comes to timing your swing, the rumble certainly helped.
Sega Superstar Tennis is a nice surprise for a handheld version of a console tennis game. While the idea of the game wasn’t overly appealing to me as Nintendo have been doing sports spin-off’s for years, it manages to have enough original content and gameplay to make it enjoyable, accessible and worth buying. Single player options are plentiful, multiplayer matches are fun and Wifi and Rumble make me happy like a fat man with a bucket of KFC. If you want a portable tennis game on the DS this is the best out there right now.
+ Wifi & Rumble support
+ Large character list
+ Fairly impressive graphics
+ Smooth gameplay
- Sound clips can get tired after the first few games
- Touch screen controls just aren’t good enough
- Specials are pretty rubbish