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DS  header logo

Sega Superstars Tennis

For: DS

Court in the act

Product: Sega Superstars Tennis | Developer: Sumo Digital | Publisher: Sega | Format: DS | Genre: Sports | Players: 1-4 | Version: Europe
 
Sega Superstars Tennis DS, thumbnail 1
When you think about tennis it's quite likely images of lush green playing surfaces, strawberries covered in cream and Sir Cliff Richard belting out a few favourites will spring to mind. We'd be willing to bet that blue hedgehogs, interstellar pop stars and big-eared monkeys don't often feature in these visions (unless you happen to be on a particularly strong brand of cold and flu medicine, of course). That might be about to change with the release of Sega's latest sporting game, though.

No doubt taking a small degree of inspiration from Nintendo's successful Mario Tennis console series, Sega Superstars Tennis is fairly easy to summarize: it's everyone's favourite racquet-based sport but instead of the usual line-up of Nadal, Roddick and Federer, here we have famous characters ripped from Sega's time-worn back catalogue to play as.

Naturally, Sonic makes an appearance, but devoted Sega aficionados will be pleased to hear that Beat (Jet Set Radio), Ulala (Space Channel 5) and AiAi (Super Monkey Ball) have also been incorporated, as well as several other fan favourites that have to be unlocked by winning tournaments, such as former Sega mascot Alex Kidd and Sonic's current squeeze Amy.

The first thing you'll notice about Sega Superstars Tennis is that the graphics really are exceptionally lovely. Character models are detailed and packed with expression, and the courts they play on are similarly impressive, employing a clever fusion of 3D and 2D that creates a striking impression of depth and scale.

Predictably these arenas are based on Sega games and dedicated fans will get a buzz from dropping shots within sight of the House of the Dead or smashing volleys in Green Hill Zone. The sense of authenticity is further accentuated by the use of original music from the respective games – the Jet Set Radio theme is a particular favourite of ours.

Control is a vital factor in games of this type and for the most part Sega Superstars Tennis doesn't disappoint. You character is responsive and reacts swiftly to your commands; aiming for a certain section of the court is relatively easy and within a few minutes' play you'll be exchanging tense rallies with your adversary.

Shot strength is decided by how long you hold down the appropriate button for. Reaction shots are therefore weaker, but if you can place yourself correctly and anticipate the path of the ball, then you have the opportunity to wind up a really powerful smash that will leave your hapless opponent reeling.

If you can maintain a successful rally then your 'Superstar' meter builds up and once full enables you to enter Superstar mode – your character undergoes a subtle transformation (or in Sonic's case, less than subtle given that he morphs into 'Super Sonic', as previously seen in his Mega Drive outings) and standard shots are given incredible kinetic properties, such as rapidly zig-zagging across court in order to fool your foe.

So far, so good, then, but one aspect of the interface that we can't quite fathom is Sumo Handheld's inexplicable reluctance to utilize every button on the DS. A and B are topspin and slice, respectively, but to execute drop shots and lobs you have to enter a combination of those two buttons (pressing A then B for a lob, for example).

Those of you that hold the aforementioned Mario Tennis: Power Tour on the GBA in high esteem will be all too familiar with this set-up, but the team behind that game were operating within the limitations of the host hardware as the GBA only possessed two fascia buttons. In the case of Sega Superstars Tennis it would have been perfectly possible to assign lob and drop shot to the DS's X and Y buttons. It's hardly a game-breaking problem and Mario Tennis veterans will be perfectly at home here, but it does strike us as rather puzzling given the fact that there are buttons going spare on the DS.

Staying with controls, converts of the DS's touchscreen may be delighted to learn that it's also supported as a control interface. For the most part this works quite well, with movement being handled by the stylus and shots being taken automatically – the proviso being that you have to ensure your character is at least in the general proximity of the incoming ball.

It's a brave attempt at accommodating the touchscreen but it ultimately fails to offer the same degree of control as the more traditional set-up and it's therefore hard to consider it as anything more than an afterthought on the part of the developer. It's certainly not a method we stuck with for long.

Game options, meanwhile, are as you might expect them to be: there's a Quick Match mode that picks two random characters and thrusts you straight into the action – perfect if you find a spare five minutes when on the bus to work, for example. The Championship modes are where you're likely to spend the vast majority of your time, though, and it's through these tournaments that you unlock the additional characters mentioned previously.

In addition to the main game there are also several mini-game 'missions', each based on a renowned Sega title. While these are undeniably faithful to the source material, they quickly lose their appeal after repeated play and offer only a mild distraction from the central attraction.

If Sega Superstars Tennis is being positioned as a rival to Nintendo's popular Mario Tennis (which would seem logical), it's regrettable to report it doesn't quite match it in terms of brilliance. Sega's roster of characters isn't anywhere near as iconic as Nintendo's and many of the franchises included are stylistically at odds with each other (House of the Dead and Super Monkey Ball, for example), giving the game a rather jumbled and haphazard feel in terms of design. It also lacks a Career mode – a facet that made the GBA iteration of Mario Tennis a near-essential acquisition in our opinion.

Predictably, lifelong Sega aficionados are likely to extract more satisfaction from Sega Superstars Tennis thanks to the charitable helpings of fan-service. But even if you've never heard of Alex Kidd before and couldn't give two hoots about Space Harrier, this is still worthy of investigation. Shortcomings aside, it's without a doubt the finest tennis game currently available for the DS and will hold on to that coveted title until Nintendo announces the inevitable Mario Tennis DS.
 
Sega Superstars Tennis
Reviewer photo
Damien McFerran | 20 March 2008
Control issues and a general lack of cohesion prevent Sega Superstars Tennis from totally stealing the show on Centre Court, but it nevertheless remains a commendable purchase
 
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