If there's one thing more boring than listening to people complain about the endless mini-game compilations churned out for the Wii, it's having to play the endless mini-game compilations churned out for the Wii. So three cheers for SEGA and the new titles it's bringing out for Nintendo's console, none of which are mini-game compilations.
They are, in order of interestingness: SEGA Superstar Tennis, Samba de Amigo, House of the Dead 2&3 and SEGA Bass Fishing. I got to take a look at the lot at a recent press event in South Kensington. It was well worth going, and not just because they gave me a SEGA tracksuit top when I left. And a lanyard. You can never have too many lanyards. (UK:R was there too, so there's no point writing in.) Here's a roundup of what was on show.
SEGA Superstars Tennis
It's always tiresome when developers bang on about how they're going to push back the boundaries, raise all the bars and break loads of moulds. So talking to Sumo Digital, the studio behind SEGA Superstars Tennis (and the excellent Virtua Tennis 3), makes a nice change.
"Our goal hasn't been to go out and redefine tennis games," says producer Steve Lycett. "It's been to make a fun game anyone can enjoy."
Lead designer Travis Ryan agrees. "We just want to make a really fun tennis title based on the established Virtua Tennis engine. We want to broaden the audience for it because Virtua Tennis is such an awesome game. It would be nice if more people got into it."
SST definitely doesn't take itself too seriously. It's the ultimate Blue Skies tennis game, featuring characters from and courts based on classic SEGA titles such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Jet Set Radio, Space Channel 5, Puyo Pop and Golden Axe. There are no top spins, slices and lobs, just fast and slow shots (though Sumo says advanced players can combine button presses for more complex swings).
Play well and you'll charge up your Superstar power, which can be unleashed at the time of your choosing. It might give your character an enhancement, such as the ability to run faster, or affect the other player - for example, by causing a lightning strike on their side of the court. Doubles players can use their powers simultaneously for maximum effect.
Then there are the mini-games [but you said... - Ed]. Dozens of them, again based on classic titles. "Basically we wanted to make the ultimate SEGA fan's game," explains Ryan. "That's why you've got the original music, sound effects, HUDs, loading screens... We wanted to make every mini-game feel like a separate SEGA game."
Our favourite is the Virtua Squad mini-game where you use the remote like a light gun to shoot tennis balls at billboards. Not people, Lycett explains, because the censors won't have balls being fired at humans in videogames. Bullets, of course, are fine.
The comparison to Mario Tennis is inevitable, and not something Sumo shies away from. "It's similar in its approach and its look," admits Ryan. But Lycett adds, "It's got its own flavour from being a SEGA game."
The Wii version offers you three control systems to choose from. You can hold the remote like a regular pad or use a Classic controller. You can use the remote only, as with Wii Sports tennis. Or use the remote to swing and the nunchuk to move your player around the court.
I began the playtest using the third system, but switched to the remote alone after accidentally whipping myself in the tits several times (you can change control systems at any time during matches, happily). It felt much like playing Wii Sports tennis, but according to Lycett there's more to it than that.
"When you first play it you don't really realise the depth, but it's all done on timing," he says. "In terms of the Wii version what we've done, probably, is add more depth to Wii Sports tennis. That's an awful thing to say but it's true."
Is it so awful? Wii Sports tennis is still the only thing my non-gaming friends want to play when they've come round. It'd be nice to have a tennis game with more depth to try out when they go home. And if you don't fancy SEGA Superstars Tennis on Wii, you could opt for the PS3 or Xbox 360 versions - both of which will let you compete and compare mini-game high scores online. They'll all be released, along with PS2 and DS versions, on 28th March.