Hot Shots Tennis Preview
If there's one franchise that relies almost entirely on sheer entertaining gameplay, it's the Hot Shots Golf series. But don't think for a second that Sony can only handle one sport with that "hot" name; Hot Shots Tennis is on the way for the PS2. Sure, it may have to contend with the likes of Virtua Tennis and Top Spin, but Hot Shots Golf actually competes quite favorably with the Tiger Woods PGA Tour titles, so that shouldn't be a problem. If they can bring their patented style to the courts, a tennis game featuring the Hot Shots theme should be a whole lot of fun.
Clap Hanz, the same developer, is at the reigns for this exclusive PS2 game, and it'll boast the same vibrant colors and light-hearted atmosphere fans of the golf games are so familiar with. But the real question is, how will they portray the sport of tennis? The golf games are amazingly realistic beneath that cartoon-y exterior; players generally have to consider everything a real golfer would have to consider: ball angle, lie, wind, green and fairway slope, where on the ball to strike (top for top-spin and low for backspin), appropriate power, height, etc. So will they take the same approach with tennis? In other words, if we can expect the same big-headed, big-eyed players, zany caddies, and colorful courses, will there also be a truly accurate tennis simulation beneath the surface?
Well...to be honest, we're not really sure. Based on some control explanations via IGN's recent preview, we know how things will work, but it's hard to imagine how realistic it might be. You basically use the left analog stick to aim your shot, and you aim at one of nine sections on the court (center, left-center, right, center, far, far-right, etc.), and as is the case with the golf games, timing is essential. For golf, you need to time your button press with the power bar, and we guess a similar process will be in place for the tennis title. For example, if you're late on the press, your ball won't go exactly to the section of the court you were aiming at, just like in golf, where being late or early dictates hook and slice. We assume character statistics are going to factor in as well; some may be better at power and less adept at timing, meaning we'd have our choice of power or finesse players.
It appears serving will be tough, with timing being even more crucial than it is with the groundstrokes. But you'll have two major modes to hone your skills with; the Challenge Mode and the Fun Time Tennis mode. Don't get any crazy ideas regarding the latter, though, it's basically just an exhibition match that includes several silly options, like unpredictable bounces, slow-mo gameplay, and your choice of normal or "odd" courts. The real meat of the game centers on Challenge Mode - as weird as that sounds - but by continually winning matches here, you'll be able to unlock new characters, costumes, umpires, courts, and hopefully, equipment. In the golf titles, you could earn new clubs and balls, so perhaps we can get new racquets in Hot Shots Tennis.
But there does appear to be a problem. It begins and ends with Challenge and Fun Time Tennis. There's no tournament or career mode, which could prove to be a major hindrance. We had a huge tournament tree in the golf games, ranging greatly from novice to expert skill levels, and without that kind of tournament mode, we have a bad feeling Tennis might feel very lackluster. Then again, maybe the Challenge mode will be robust enough to hold our attention for a significant amount of time, especially if the gameplay proves to be as fun and addictive as it is in the Golf games. Besides, the game will support up to four players offline via the Multitap (sorry, no online), so it has the makings of a great party game.
Hot Shots Tennis is scheduled to release in July, and we honestly hope it has enough going for it to warrant a purchase. We also hope it arrives at a decent price - perhaps even the budget price of $20? - because there certainly doesn't seem to be enough here to be worth a full $40. But either way, we can almost guarantee it will be, at the very least, fun.
5/3/2007 Ben Dutka