With the success of Wii Sports, and Wii Tennis being a major part of that, you'd have thought tennis games would have flooded the market, but other than Rockstar's Table Tennis Wii owners have nothing to choose from. So, SEGA has taken it upon itself to deliver the first proper game based on tennis, but with a twist. SEGA Superstars Tennis is a SEGA fan's dream sports game, featuring plenty of SEGA characters and themed gameplay that looks to set this apart from other tennis games on the market. We checked out the Wii game a few weeks prior to release to see if gamers should be excited.
While this preview is Wii specific, most of the game features apply across the board. The one thing that Wii has over the others is motion controls, although you don't need to play that way. Developer Sumo Digital offers three control schemes. The first is as most Wii gamers might expect. You use the Wii Remote alone, swinging it to hit the ball, with the harder the swing the stronger the shot and all movement handled by the game - although you can override the movement by using the d-pad. Next up is a combination of Wii-remote and Nunchuck, allowing you more control over movement and spin - something Sumo expects most 'proper' gamers to use. Then, if you want an old-school feel you can just use the Wii Remote, turned on its side like a NES controller. All work pretty well and should open the game up to all kinds of players.
At its core the game is very Virtua Tennis, and that's no bad thing. The differences come in the Superstar moves and the core Superstar game mode. Each player has a star around their feet. Playing good shots fills this star, eventually allowing you to perform a Superstar move. These are unique to each character and when triggered give you a huge upper hand. Super Sonic hits the ball in a way so that it changes direction mid-air, while Eggman throws bombs and AiAi (Super Monkey Ball) throws bananas.
It might sound a little gimmicky, but it works well and so far seems to be good fun. For those wondering how you perform the different stroke types, holding A performs a lob, while holding B performs a drop. It sounded a little like a copout at first, but in practice it proved to be a wise decision. We tested out what would happen if we pitted a Wii Remote and Nunchuck player against a simple Wii Remote player and the results were pretty even, suggesting post-pub gaming to be a real possibility.
Superstar mode is where you'll be spending your time when you're not playing against friends. From the start this sizable looking game mode is 50 per cent unlocked, giving you plenty to go at while leaving a lot to unlock as you play through the events. It's here that much of Sumo and SEGA's fan service shines through. Rather than standard events, you're taking part in themed areas, such as a Puyo Pop, ChuChu Rocket, Virtual Cop and House of the Dead. While the latter two are renamed Curien of the Dead and Virtuous Cop, the settings and gameplay are strikingly familiar.
One Curien of the Dead stage simply required your character to avoid the ever appearing zombies, without a tennis ball in site. A Virtuous Cop stage actually had you aiming at the cardboard cut-out enemies with the Wii-remote, and hitting tennis balls at them, in a docks stage straight out of the original game. Puyo Pop actually had a traditional Puyo Pop game in the background, with you controlling the game with the tennis balls hit at it. And ChuChu Rocket featured the same classic gameplay as seen in the original, but this time you had to hit the arrows with tennis balls, directing the mice to their rocket.
Eight themed areas are on offer in total and these can also be accessed from outside of the Superstar mode. If all eight offer the same kind of ingenuity and pure gameplay goodness seen in the four we tested then SEGA will surely have a big hit on its hands. It's worth noting that all five versions of the game (Wii, PS2, Xbox 360, PS3 and DS) feature the same core game modes, with Sumo determined not to make one a lesser version of another. There are of course differences - the Wii, PS2 and DS games don't offer online, and the Wii features motion controls - but they are more or less feature equal.
What was great to see is how good the Wii game looked. On the 360 and PS3 the visuals are crisp, colourful and packed with detail, and the Wii game doesn't suffer as much as you might think. Close examination will reveal lower polygon characters, inferior special effects and less going on in the background, but as a Wii game it stands well ahead of the majority of the pack.
The lack of online support in the Wii game is likely to cause a few Wii gamers to groan though. Sumo Digital did say that they focussed on excellent motion control over online functionality, which is fair enough, but being greedy gamers we wanted both. Xbox 360 and PS3 gamers will get eight-player online tournaments and something Sumo is calling TV. Here you'll be able to watch other games going on live and download replays of matches. We haven't seen it in action yet, but it sounds like there'll be plenty to do even when you're not playing tennis.
While the console versions certainly look the most impressive, it's worth mentioning the DS game. Not content with churning out a sub-par game, Sumo has crammed virtually everything seen in the console games into the DS game, and added multiplayer support for single card (two players) and multiple game cards (four players). Visually it's pretty excellent too, with large characters and smooth gameplay. Whether or not we'd choose it over one of the home console versions is debatable, but DS gamers aren't being left in the cold.
SEGA Superstars Tennis is due for release in late March but we're already pretty convinced that anyone interested in tennis or simply big SEGA fans should find a lot to enjoy. If you're not playing to beat your mates you'll be playing to unlock the 80 classic SEGA tunes and discovering the other secrets Sumo has locked away within the game. Look for our full review next month.