Reviewed: August 14, 2007
Released: July 17, 2007
Hot Shots Tennis is the latest attempt for a company to shift gears from golf to tennis; a feat Hypnotix already managed to pull off when it took its Outlaw Golf franchise and spun it, not only into Tennis, but Volleyball as well, and in my opinion, with better results.
The first thing you need to do when making a game is find a need and frankly, Iím not sure we need another tennis game, at least on the PS2. With Top Spin and Virtua Tennis games already offering a wide range of serious gameplay mixed with fun mini-games, does the cute animated cast from Hot Shots Golf need to trade in their clubs for rackets? Clap Hanz and Sony are hoping you think so.
Hot Shots Tennis mimics the look, feel, and even the unassuming gameplay of the golf game that inspired this spin-off title. You have a charming cast of characters, simple, but scaleable gameplay, and some colorful graphics and fantasy locations in which to test your tennis skills, but when it comes to actually playing the game I could never connect with the actual sport. It was like I was playing some arcade game posing as a tennis game.
If you have played any other tennis game ever then you already know how to play Hot Shots Tennis. You move your player around your side of the net to position yourself to hit the ball using one of four swing types, flat, topspin, slice, and lob, each assigned to a face button. These same buttons also determine the type of serve you fire across the net.
The power of your shot is pure timing, especially for the serves. There is no power meter as in other games. You simply have to watch the ball as you toss it up and hit it at the apex of its up and down path. The opposite side of the court is dividing into nine areas that you can target by pushing on the left stick at the moment of impact, and here lies most of the problems and the ultimate failure of Hot Shots Tennis.
In most tennis games you get to aim your shot with relative analog freedom. The longer your hold the stick in one direction prior to hitting the ball the further it will go in that direction. And the longer you hold down the shot button the harder you hit the ball; a system that rewards you for getting into position early so you can preload the next shot. Not so in this game.
My entire time with Hot Shots Tennis I never felt I was playing tennis. It was more like I was chasing this red circle around my side of the court then quickly trying to hit the ball where the other player wasnít, or couldnít get to. This red circle pretty much told me where the incoming ball was going to land, meaning it was pretty hard for the computer to surprise me. I knew if the ball was going left, right, short, or deep, and it seemed the computer AI did too.
Iím not sure if this was by design, but it seemed awfully hard to win a volley against the computer without ending it on a smash move. There is no stamina meter, so you canít really tire out the other player by making them run back and forth. Your main goal, it seemed, was to force them to return your last shot in such a way that a yellow circle appeared on your side of the court enabling you to deliver a powerful and unreturnable smash back across the net.
Everything about the gameplay seemed uncertain to me. I never knew how hard I was going to hit the ball or where it was going to land. I always had a good idea where it was supposed to go, but as the training exercises quickly revealed, where I thought it was going and where it actually went were two completely different concepts. For kids, this might not be a big deal, but for somebody who enjoys a simulated sports experience, this wasnít it. Even Outlaw Tennis, admittedly an exaggerated version of the sport, at least got the core gameplay down solid.
A few big surprises occurred while playing Hot Shots Tennis. I got my first ever, double fault while serving, and Iíve been playing tennis games for years. Iíll normally try a fancy serve and if I fault Iíll do a safe serve, but even a safe serve (not hitting any direction while serving) in Hot Shots can go wide and out of bounds. Most other tennis games will also alert you when you are targeting ďtoo hardĒ, with a subtle vibration, but not so in Hot Shots. I had numerous shots going wide and deep past the lines. I also hit my first ball ever into MY side of the net.
A nagging issue, and one that takes a lot of enjoyment from the career, or Challenge mode, is there is no player progression. Most games have you earning points and leveling up various attributes for your players so you get better as the competition gets stiffer. In Hot Shots, youíll keep your various letter grades (A-F) in your various skills for the duration of the 7 tiers in the challenge mode. The only way to improve your stats is to unlock a new character with better stats.
My biggest complaint however is that the game switches you from bottom of the screen to top of the screen when you switch court sides. For whatever reason I cannot play tennis from this reverse perspective, which means that for half of the games I would lose to the computer meaning all my matches went the distance and a tie-breaker. There is an option in the menus that clearly offers me the choice to stay behind the player (i.e. not switch to the top of the screen), but it doesnít work.
I loved the deep unlockable system in Hot Shots Golf, but Tennis seems to have skimped on the bonus content. You get 14 characters, only two of which are available from the start, and a few costumes so you can play dress-up. There are 11 courts to unlock and five umpires (the equivalent of unlocking caddies in the golf game), but where are all the accessories? There are not hats, shades, shoes, or even better equipment. All of those cool gameplay devices to improve your playerís stats are gone. You really end up feeling quite limited.
Youíll want to play the Challenge mode first so you can unlock the rest of the content for the other modes. Training is basically a series of exercises that work on various concepts of tennis like your serve, returning a volley or doing smash hits. You are given a certain number of balls in which to make a required amount of successful shots, and if you do you will advance to the next level. You go as far as you can go and end up with a letter grade for that exercise. Again, nothing you do really helps your in-game character. There are no skills points or upgradeable attributes.
I had hoped Fun Time Tennis would offer a nice selection of fun mini-games, but alas, even this mode was skimped on and you basically have a few options for setting up a multiplayer game for up to four people, assuming you have a Multitap and three friends with low standards in gaming.
Hot Shots Tennis supports neither widescreen nor progressive scan, so if you have an HDTV youíll either be stretching and distorting the picture or playing with black boxes on either side of the square image. Admittedly, this is a PS2 game so these advanced video features arenít required, but since most other current PS2 titles are supporting at least widescreen mode it would have been nice to include it.
The game is quite colorful and charming with all of the trademark style and character design youíd expect from a Hot Shots title. The cast isnít quite as clever or original as the golf game, but for those who like anime girls in short skirts, there is plenty of leg and low camera angles to view them from.
There are clever icons to indicate your shots, like a bunny for fast and a turtle for slow, and musical notes appear in a cloud bubble when you make a sweet shot. There are plenty of flashy effects, starbursts, sparkles, and lots of cool replays for your smash shots. You can toggle the frequency of these replays in the options if they get too annoying.
An energetic theme songs kicks off the game, much like their golf titles and there is some nice menu music, but for the most part the only sounds youíll be hearing during the match are the twang on racket strings and the bouncing of tennis balls. The crowd will clap, much like the golf game, but donít expect any thunderous applause or cheering.
There is some minimal speech for each of the characters, and this too is much like what weíve become familiar with in the golf games. Itís exaggerated and even annoying at times, with shrill voices and mundane one-liners. You'll also get the scores spoken after each exchange.
Hot Shots Tennis is only $30, but so are a lot of other, better, tennis games out there. You can probably find Top Spin in the bargain bin by now. I canít help but feel this game was rushed out the door; at least the U.S. version. The core tennis game just isnít there and there are no real unlockables or compelling reasons to play the game for more than a rental period, just long enough to unlock the courts and a few extra players.
There are no mini-games to keep you coming back, and unless you have a Multitap your multiplayer games are going to be limited to only two players. The real deal-breaker is the total lack of character customization and progression. Without these, you just have an arcade tennis game with unpredictable controls and clunky gameplay.
I had high hopes for Hot Shots Tennis, especially given the legacy of their previous golf games. I still play Hot Shots Golf on my PSP, even today, and Iím anxiously awaiting the new Hot Shots Golf on PS3. Perhaps this tennis game might have fared better on the PSP, but then again, with Namcoís Smash Court Tennis 3 being released at the same time, and it being a far superior simulation of the sport, probably not.
Hot Shots Tennis might appeal to the younger gamers, those who donít know any better and are just looking for simple arcade gameplay and cute characters, but PS2 gamers looking for a quality tennis ďexperienceĒ will either need to revisit some of the classics like Top Spin, or continue to wait.