SEGA Superstars Tennis Reader Review
Tennis is something that is difficult to escape from during the summer months. Cases of ball-game-based hysteria are quite widespread, as are very poor choices in hats. Even Sonic and his rag-tag team of vaguely-associated misfits aren't immune to the strawberry and cream flavoured shennanigans. The fools! Many of Sega's long-running franchises are represented here, racquet in hand and canonicity out of the window. You could dismiss it as the blue hedgehog's attempt at cloning Mario Tennis, in a sense that is correct but it's built up from Virtua Tennis, probably the best tennis game we've had the "luxury" of playing.
Come on, Tim!
The obvious standards are present and correct. Sonic the Hedgehog alone brings along his common-law partner Tails as his doubles partner and they are later joined by obsessive Amy Rose and flame-licked emo-hog - Shadow. The relegation of Knuckles to decoration in favour of Shadow is downright stupid though as the game lacks power-based characters and Knuckles is far more deserving (Even if he does sound like Yu-gi-oh now). The Dreamcast is restored from it's ashes with Amigo flamboyantly stepping up to the court and Jet Set Radio seeing Beat and Gum grind in. The most nostalgic surprises are the sudden reappearance of Alex Kidd and Gilius Thunderhead. The only issue with the roster is lack of variety, with only 16 characters from SEGA's back catalogue it leaves many of it's best series without a playable representative and the styles of play are very imbalanced.
The Sega stable has some great characters and it's a real pleasure to see some of them out and about. It's also nice to see Sonic in a somewhat bareable venture after his last few efforts on the non-portables. Don't get this wrong though, Sonic is in it but SEGA is the subject here and no matter how much Sonic makes his irritating quips, it'll stay that way. The characters are showcased quite well here too. From Ulala's constant dancing on the spot to the way Tails resorts to hovering in order to stretch to that hard-to-reach spot, it's lovely (Although the characters slightly gaped-jawed and expressionless idle stances are quite scary looking...).
The Tennis forms the bulk of the experience. This is what one would expect of a Tennis game afterall. The control's are pretty simple, Serves are administered with two stabs at the A button, time it right and you can serve it at impressive speeds. Sometimes a fast serve will cause an opponent to not even attempt to knock back the ball, specifically on the Monkey Ball characters who seem to be unable to counter the aces with correct timing. You can return the ball yourself with X or A or lob it over the net with X and A at the same time. Quite why the lob wasn't mapped to X or A on it's own is a mystery known only to employees of Sumo digital. In Superstars mode the difficulty fluctuates intensely and fumbling the ball can cost you very quickly.
There are a few styles of play to take on which while not all that different can make certain goals easier or harder on you. Speed characters are obvious, at the back of the court it's almost impossible to miss the ball until the higher difficulties. Power characters deliver faster returns. Spin characters have an arc on their technique which makes it easier to out an opponent when they are away from the ball and Control characters make it easier to put the ball just where you want it while sacrificing speed and power. The final category is the all-rounder who are exactly what the tin says, they don't excel or fail in any area and in the case of bed-time siblings NiGHTs and Reala can stretch a match for a long time as you rack up the rallies. The AI themselves can seem extremely cheap at times, being able to pull powerful cross-court volleys from a stumbled dive where your own character would simply return it straight in the same situation.
One of the major features that seperates this from it's Virtua Tennis parents is the "Superstar shot". Character specific abilities that temporarily grant a different kind of return, with added trimmings. Some are quite nasty like Alex Kidd's who makes the ball very difficult to return by dropping weights on you after you knock back the ball, escape to the wrong side of the weight and you'll never get the ball while some, like Sonic and Tails' are technically rubbish. You work up the power to use these by rallying the ball but while you are charging so is the opponent. Pull the trigger when the star under your character is glowing and you'll go into a short scene that imbues your next few shots with the power.
Superstars mode largely consists of Tennis-based challenges. You find yourself on a map screen of sorts, directing yourself over logo's of SEGA games. More unlock after you clear enough challenges. Theres a ring collecting mini-game for Sonic, a tag painting game for Jet Set Radio, a mouse directing/cat killing game for Chu Chu Rocket and a few more others. The most interesting ones are probably the House of the Dead or Virtua Cop challenges which both consist of knocking down moving targets. The difference is the zombies slowly shuffle toward you whereas the criminal's tend to be static or move left and right while charging a shot on you. Though they don't really change the challenges and you are forced to go through "filler" stages which are near identical but have a slightly different objective, force you to play perfectly or just make things more difficult. After clearing enough you'll unlock the challenges as multiplayer score-attack style "ball games". Which could serve to increase the fun rating quickly. Party morphing SingStar or Guitar Hero it isn't though.
Game, Set, Match
The game is a nostalgia festival, the courts and characters look very bold on 360. The theming even extends to loading screens which are sharp and colourful. It isn't the greatest Tennis game but to be honest, it doesn't really claim that it is. It's an enjoyable enough venture and if they plan to extend the Superstar's brand then they'd better come up with something a smidgen more addictive next time. Representing more series and featuring character biographies or something couldn't hurt either.
7 / 10