Sega Superstar Tennis DS
Sega Superstar Tennis looks to repeat the success of Mario and Sonic at the Olympics with a mini-game encrusted play experience. Although this is a solid release from Sega, too much recycling and not enough innovation in the main game limit the experience from becoming anything more than another outing for the Vitura Tennis engine.
With the gaming coming to the majority of current generation gaming platforms, Sega has obviously been able to up the level of polish throughout. The 360 and PS3 versions have obviously had the lion share of the graphical properties whilst the Wii has nabbed the innovative controller time. We are left with a DS version that although has a general sheen of polish doesn’t seem to have been the team’s main concern.
The simple truth is that we have seen this all before. Tennis has been successfully delivered on Nintendo handheld platforms since the days of the original Gameboy. So much so that one of my favourite games of all time is still Top Rank Tennis on that old 1990’s brick that finally provide portable gaming to be a real possibility. I still go back to its openness of play and variety of shots.
“But wait”, I hear you say, “what about the intelligent simulation model of Virtua Tennis surely this makes for a more imersive experience?” Well (if I’m going to be totally honest here) Top Rank Tennis did all that some 15 years back. Granted, this is a game with entirely superior animation and fluidity and overall presentation that until recent years was unthinkable. But at the end of the day it doesn’t really add an awful lot to the actual fun of playing the game.
Also, it’s not without its graphical flaws. The action takes place exclusively on the top screen, meaning that the players and ball are rather small. The lower display is just used to show the score and cycling imaged of the battling Sega characters. All that extra screen real estate simply goes to waste. When so many games make use of both screens so effectively (Sonic Rush or Yoshi’s Island to name a couple) it seems criminal to ignore it so.
The sound is pretty much common across all versions and the DS does a pretty good job of rendering its audio output. As it true for a lot of DS games these days though, it’s not until you don a pair of headphones that you fully appreciate the fidelity of the aural action. Along with an array of tennis shot sound effects, there are samples a-plenty from each Sega character – something that certainly completes the fan service of the game.
Controls are a little better, and we can even spot some innovation with a variety of strokes and pokes from the stylus giving you more pinpoint control of your shot. However, the fact that this is not the default scheme gives away a lack of confidence in the ability to use the stylus to play tennis. Although starting out determined to play without defaulting back to the buttons, we had to admit (after prolonged play) that the immediacy of D-Pad and button presses was more than a match for the gesture controls on offer.
We’d have loved to see the game played in the DS’s newer book style. Holding the device sideways would provide more space for appropriate gestures, and also enable a more natural rendering of the longer vertical axis of the tennis court (hopefully spanning both screens along the way.
The game does offer a comprehensive multiplayer mode, something Nintendo seem better at providing on their handheld than their home console. We had plenty of games over the WC with only minimal lag. Local multiplayer was also great fun, proving that there is not replacement for hearing your opponent shriek and groan as you grind them into the court.
This is a game that will really only deliver full value to those who haven’t already played a lot of Virtua Tennis. And we would imagine that (such is the success of the series) that this is a diminishing group of gamers. If you are new to the franchise however, or if you want a timely reminder of the great and the good from the Sega back catalogue, then this a solid game for you. However it should be noted that the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii versions offer a superior experience.