Sega Sports Tennis Review
Back when the Dreamcast was the most technologically superior system, Sega Sports -- whose reputation wasn't really established as of yet -- started distributing tons of great sports games. One of those was Virtua Tennis, a mix of arcade and simulation that any sports fan could find enjoyable. Since then, Tennis 2K2 has come out, the sequel to Virtua Tennis, and the game has now been brought over to the PS2 sporting the name Sega Sports Tennis.
Graphically, Sega Sports Tennis easily outshines anything the competitors have produced, although they are dated. While the visuals have only gone through marginal augmentations from the Dreamcast rendition, the game easily beats out Smash Court Tennis and WTA Tour Tennis. Each arena packs tons of color, and the crowd inhabitants look quite convincing. During replays the crowd doesn't look as good since they're a bit blurry, but during the match, they look pretty sharp for a crowd. However, the game still suffers from some aliasing issues (read: jaggies), just as it did on the Dreamcast.
The individual players boast both good and bad qualities. Although the body structures look out of proportion at times, the faces look very much like their real life counterparts, very much. Intricately detailed, the faces are virtually photo realistic, featuring hair, shape, and placement all accurately. In a nutshell, you won't find a sports game on the PS2 to better recreate the faces of the players that are included.
The player list includes both female and male players, totaling to 16 pro tour competitors. The men's side of the draw includes Patrick Rafter, Tim Henman, Cedric Pioline, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Tommy Haas, Thomas Enqvist, Magnus Norman, and Carlos Moya, while the women's side features Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport, Monica Seles, Mary Pierce, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Ai Sugiyama, Alexandra Stevenson. Quite a few notable players on the men's side are nowhere to be found, such as Agassi, Sampras, Hewitt, and Roddick, but the women's side is robust with good players. Unfortunately, Sega also had licensing problems with the tournaments, as the four majors aren't included, but Sega Sports still utilizes the three major court surfaces -- hard, clay, and grass.
Sega Sports Tennis includes three different play modes: Tournament, Exhibition, and World Tour. Tournament lets players compete in an arcade-like string of matches, with the difficulty steadily increasing as players progress. Exhibition is where you can practice on one of the many courts you acquire in World Tour mode, and it's also great for multiplayer set-ups with friends, even mixed doubles.
World Tour is where Sega's tennis title just goes so much deeper than anything else currently on the market. As you start, you create a male and female player, adjusting his/her looks, play style, and ensemble before starting. Starting out on the tour, both your players begin with the ranking of 300th in the world to their respective division, and you'll play a deluge of different mini games as well as a bunch of tournaments -- in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles.
There's a whole bevy of tournaments that you'll get to enter, which lets you get closer and closer to the number one ranking. Your game is pretty shabby from the start though, which is why you'll have to play and complete in the gaggle of mini games over and over and over, improving your players' game in the various facets each time. This will be a necessity since the players on level 3 and 4 are very touch and pack an impressive arsenal of shots. Each tournament has a ranking criteria, too, and the lower the ranking criteria is, the harder the players are. As you win more and more tournaments, your ranking will increase and the difficulty will, of course, rise. You can also play doubles with any player in the game -- at a price, though.
The mini games are quite fun and really help to break up the tournament play. Helping your game with serving, ground strokes, volleying, and footwork, you can steadily increase your players' whole game, creating two well-rounded players. Serving at bowling pins, attacking robots, and turning over discs in a strategic manner are just a few of the different objectives you'll be faced with. Prize Sniper and Pin Crasher both work on your service game, including angle, power, and more, while Bull's Eye and Alien Force work on your volleys; Danger Flags and Stomp Man work on your players' footwork, and Tank Attack and Disc Shooter work on your players ground strokes -- forehand and backhand shots. Pin Crasher has pins set up on the opposite side of the court and has you play as though you're bowling, except that you're serving a tennis ball instead, and Bull's Eye has a dart board-type set up on the other side of the net, and you want to try to accumulate the most points by hitting the inner parts of it with volleys.
The game plays much differently from Smash Court Tennis. The balls are a lot harder to get a lot of pace behind them, but it's somewhat better this way, as points will last longer. Hitting a hard shot is done by having time to set up and plant your feet. The longer you're set up, the harder your shot will be, and the longer you've had your direction set on the analog, the more severe an angle you'll produce. While most of the rallies will consist of top spin shots, players can also hit lobs, drop shots, and slices, each being potent at the right time.
The AI is not only smart and slick, but your opponents also pack tons of skill -- so much, that you'll have to play the mini games quite a bit just to stay in the running with some of the later difficulty levels. They seemingly float around the court too, since they save so many winners by diving around, making you play virtually flawlessly to win.
Serving is done by a meter that rises quickly, and once you press it a second time, that's where the speed is determined -- think of kicking a field goal. If you stop the bar at its apex, you'll get a "max" serve, which is quite the serve to return when it's coupled with good placement -- either down the T or out wide. The serving animations for the selectable players were rendered very well, and the sense of speed is definitely there when you're watching the ball shoot to the other side of the court. However, the other animations are strangely not as accurate. While they may look plausible to the casual fan, players that are more involved in the sport will realize that the forehand and backhand cross court animations aren't too genuine looking, and the volleys don't look a lot like ones in real life.
The biggest difference with Sega Sports Tennis and ATP and WTA (professional) tennis is the fact that ‘holding serve' takes a whole new meaning. On the pro tour, players usually hold their own serve (meaning they win the game that they serve out), and when a player breaks (wins a game on the other player's serve), then the set will probably be won by that player, since players are so dominant on their own service games. However, this is the exact opposite in this game, as breaking serve is actually easier than holding serve. Even when you serve it with "max" speed, your opponent will still crack at it hard, putting you on the defensive in most cases. Likewise, you can take some huge cracks at his serve, giving you the momentum in that point right away. Because of this, it's actually easier to break than to hold, and this changes up the whole game plan at times.
Aurally, Sega Sports Tennis is just like any other tennis game, with the "thud" sounds as the ball hits your racket and the screeching sounds the players' shoes make as they're scrambling toward the ball. Loud grunts as the players hit the ball helps to add some realism, and the crowd also helps to set the mood, with the clapping after a nice point is played out and making sure to keep quiet in the more dramatic situations. All the while, electric guitar beats play softly in the background.
On the whole, Sega Sports Tennis is everything a tennis game should be. Those looking for a more accurate representation of the sport, however, may want to look toward Smash Court Tennis, as it implements more real-life elements. But Sega Sports Tennis is meant to appeal to a broad number of fans, so making it more arcadey helps to make it enjoyable for everyone. Boasting the best visuals for a tennis game to date, as well as the deepest single player mode around, there's no doubt that anyone who wants to have a fun, challenging, and addictive game should look no further.
8/2/2002 Joseph Comunale