Sega Superstars Tennis Review - 24/04/2008

When people hear the word "Sega" and "Tennis" their mind automatically goes to the successful Virtua Tennis franchise, but not this time. Although Sega Superstars Tennis does take a lot of its gameplay mechanics from the VT franchise, Sega have made it a whole different ball game (excuse the pun), but does it rival its more esteemed brethren?

The first note for concern is that the plethora of the box the game comes in is taken up by the form of Sonic the Hedgehog. Yes ladies and gents the loveable hedgehog is a playable character in the game. The reason this causes concern is that, to be honest, the last number of Sonic games, ever since the change from 2D, have been utter tripe. Sega continue the futile gesture of releasing new games starring the aging hero until they are blue in the face (again excuse the pun), yet all of them turn out failures, marred by bad gameplay.

Thus, anyone taking a glance at SST may be forgiven for instantly being put off by the box shot. However the question is, is this a case of "don't judge a book by its cover" or is it more of a "what you see is what you get"? The answer is a bit of both, but sadly more of the latter. As previously mentioned, Sega seem to have instilled its VT franchise's mechanics and ball physics in this game, albeit with reduced depth, and this is a saving grace for the game. As SST is first and foremost, a tennis game, the actual tennis is very agreeable, simple to pick up, complex enough for the "harder" gamer, although maybe not as developed as VT. So yes SST does play a good game of tennis, and this is nice to see, however this is where the good points end.

The Samba de Amigo court is definitely the highlight.

To get one thing straight, if you aren't a fan of Sega's characters then don't buy this game. Looking for a dose of tennis? Then I recommend VT, however if you are a true fan and love their characters then this is an added bonus for you. SST sports all of Sega's famous mascots. Sonic as already mentioned appears with a multitude of his mates including Tails the flying fox, his evil nemesis Dr. Eggman, Shadow, and the female of the gang Amy. Also making an appearance is NiGHTS, the character from the games of the same name, Ai Ai the monkey from the Super Monkey Ball games (not in his ball this time around), Gilius Thunderhead of Golden Axe and other characters from a myriad of Sega games. Thus if you are inclined towards any of these characters and don't mind a good game of tennis, SST is for you.

Apart from the characters, the courts are also taken from the worlds of Sega's games. For example there is Sonic's Green Hill Zone, Curien Mansion from House of The Dead, the island from Super Monkey Ball and many others.

The gameplay modes on offer at he root menu screen of the game are its career mode, entitled "Superstars Mode", match mode and tournament mode, where you can partake in both singles or doubles matches, mini-games (more on that later), or online play (offline multiplayer caters from 1-4 players).

Most of the mini-games are great, but lose their novelty pretty quickly.

Entering Superstars mode you are confronted with a kind of map screen that has the different "levels" that you can play on strewn about, many of which are locked at first. You pick a level of your choice like the "Sonic The Hedgehog" level and then you are confronted with a mission select screen. Only the first mission will be available at first but you will unlock the next one by beating the one before it. Missions range between the likes of a singles tennis match, a doubles encounter, or mini-games. Another similarity with VT are these mini-games. These are of different nature depending on which world you are playing in. For example in Sonic's world the mini-games will be along the line of collecting rings on the court before the timer runs down and making sure you don't get hit by a ball while doing so. On the other hand, playing in the House of The Dead world will see you attempting to knock down a number of zombies in an allotted time period. These mini-games are quite entertaining but may become boring and routine after a while.

The actual tennis meanwhile is top notch. As mentioned, although maybe not on par with VT's depth and array of shot types, it plays a very similar game and leaves little to be desired. It feels strange controlling the characters at first, each of which have a specific strength like speed, power or all rounder, but you soon get the hang of it. Once you have settled in that is when Star Powers will begin to come into play. Unlike VT this isn't a realistic sim as each character has a special power that can be unleashed upon opponents to give you the upper hand. While playing, winning points will fill in a star that is at your characters feet. Once it is all filled in and glowing you can then unleash your star power and wreak havoc on foes. Each character has his/her own special power which is different to everyone else. For example, Sonic becomes faster and more powerful by infusing himself with the power of the chaos emeralds and turning into his alter ego Super Sonic. NiGHTS on the other hand will cause opponents to teleport when they hit the ball, thus leaving one side of the court open for you to smash home the point.

It can be fun, but gets repetetive pretty sharpish.

Wining missions (mini-games or matches) will give you a rank (like B, A, AA, or AAA) and unlock the next mission, new characters or new worlds for you to play in, thus advancing your position in the game. However the routine of beating a mission, unlocking the next area, and then doing it again begins to grate after a while despite the different game types on offer. This is not helped either by the in game and menu music which is appalling, as are each character's soundbites with around 3 allotted to each that get repeated over and over again. This monotony, plus the limited depth sells the game a bit short even though the tennis itself is fairly accomplished. Graphically the game is poor for next gen and sports graphics that the PS2 could easily produce, so nothing doing in that area. In addition SST is a bit too easy and won't do for anyone looking for a challenge; that is if they manage to look past the irritating music and slight gameplay routine.

SST is unfortunate, in a sense that it does what many other games fail to do, that is offer core gameplay that is of good quality, but is let down by the rest of the package. In this day an age, sadly, games are no longer judged solely on gameplay because SST is decent, but its monotonous and grating soundtrack, backwards graphics and childish selling point will leave it gathering dust on shop shelves.

Alex Goodenough



Sumo Digital