Reviewed: May 13, 2008
Released: March 18, 2008
Of all the games to have come out on the Wii over the part two years the most played title in my home – and most others – has been the freebie Wii Sports that came packed-in with the Wii. Even with Super Mario Galaxy, Zelda, Resident Evil 4, and now Super Smash Bros. Brawl – there is no disc that sees greater playing time on my console than Wii Sports.
What originally was not much more than a tech demo intended to showcase the motion sensing attributes of the Wii – using simple adaptations of tennis, golf, baseball and bowling to prove the controllers’ multi-axis sensibilities – has pretty much become the defining title for the console.
So, its only natural that seeing the popularity of the Wii Sports title, that third party companies would want to capitalize on its success with their own sports-based motion sensitive titles. And over the past 18 months or so we have seen a multitude of games dumped on the Wii trying to ride the wave. Ironically, even with additional dedicated development time, few have been able to capture the simplicity in detail that Wii Sports mastered so well.
The latest title to hit the shelves is Sega Superstars Tennis. Granted, Sega Superstars Tennis is not a Wii-specific release, but rather a multi platform mascot-based tennis game (think Mario Power Tennis) built upon Sega’s celebrated Virtua Tennis engine, that has been tweaked to utilize the motion-based controls of the Wii.
With the Virtua Tennis pedigree under its belt, the combination of Sega characters and Wii controls sounds like a sure bet for usurping the Wii Sports tennis – right? Well, no…not exactly. Because even though there are a lot of things that Sega Superstars Tennis does right, there are just as many places where it falters – resulting in a disjointed experience that lacks any real feeling of skill or accomplishment despite the bevy of cool features.
Sega Superstars Tennis combines Sega’s popular Virtua Tennis gameplay with nearly 20 years worth of Sega characters ranging from the predictable Sonic The Hedgehog and crew, to the hipster characters cult-classics Space Channel 5 and Jet Set Radio. Sega Superstars Tennis even touches on oddball influences such as Super Monkey Ball, The House of the Dead, Virtua Cop and Puyo Puyo Pop. All in all, Sega Superstars Tennis showcases 16 Sega characters and 10 thematic courts – which is sure to bring any Sega fan out on the courts.
The gameplay comes in the form of four distinct modes; Superstar, Exhibition, Tournament and Mini-Games. While Exhibition and Tournament are fairly straightforward, the Superstar mode puts a twist on the action by taking the player with a series of skills-based challenges and/or competition ladders to unlock thematic courts and characters. One segment might have the player jumping into last place of a tournament, while the next segment pits him up against an army of advancing zombies.
The Superstar mode is designed around navigating a series of concentric circles arranged about a central hub – each containing a handful of Sega themed courts. Completing a series of events for each themed court will open up additional courts, each with challenges of their own.
The Mini-Games mode simply takes the unique skills based challenges of the Superstar mode and applies points and/or timers to the events. So, whereas a Superstar mode challenge might task the gamer with clearing 50 House of the Dead zombies from the court or banking four Monkey Ball balls into moving targets – the Mini-Games switch it up a bit and send endless waves of zombies, or put time limits on the Monkey Balls and make it a points-based challenge.
The actual tennis play in Sega Superstars Tennis built on a solid engine, but it has been simplified for the younger audience. In fact, compared to Nintendo’s own Wii Sports Tennis, Sega Superstars is far less complex – even seeming at times as if the game is playing itself using some newfangled autopilot feature. The result is a game that has very little true challenge other than the overall awkwardness that the sketchy control options deliver.
When talking about motion based controls, what should have been the most appealing feature of Sega Superstars Tennis on the Wii actually ends up being the most off-putting due of its generic execution. Whereas Wii Sports Tennis actually recognized forehand, backhand and spin and determined contact and placement based on the timing of the swing – Sega Superstars Tennis simply takes any swing-like input and applies the required character movement, stance, and swing delivery resulting in a very shallow tennis experience that is unlike what we have come to expect from Virtua Tennis lineage. Adding a modicum of complexity to the mix by adding ball toss and movement controls mapped to the Nunchuk attachment does little to help matters.
The only alternative is to go old-school – holding the Wiimote sideways and using it as a traditional D-pad and Button controller – defeating the purpose of the Wii, and adding its own list of issues due to the controller’s tendency to roll in the hand with off-axis presses of the D-pad. The scheme definitely ups the difficulty level – but when difficulty comes as the result of handicapping, it is hardly worth the trouble.
All in all, Sega Superstars Tennis’s motion-based control integration seems like an afterthought – making its way into certain areas, but not into others – resulting in awkward flipping back and forth between being a motion-based screen pointing and sideways D-pad selection to do consecutive tasks as basic as navigating the menu screens. This is most likely due to the fact that the game was ported across all of the major consoles simultaneously, but given the Wii niche, the game would have benefited from a bit of incubation time.
Given the relatively static background environments, solid object colors, limited character interaction, and set animations – it really is hard for a tennis game to screw up the visuals. But when that game of tennis involves the melding of a wide array of fantasy, realistic, and cartoon like characters and environments, the results can tend to be a bit sketchy.
Thankfully, Sega Superstars Tennis makes the grade with a striking visual package, that not only captures the appearance and motion of the subject material, but also delivers a believable package where a pair of hedgehogs can volley with hip-hop hipsters and not resort to silly visual gimmicks.
An added bonus, Sega Superstars Tennis supports 480p widescreen output without noticeable stretching or letterboxing.
What excites most hardcore gamers more than seeing their favorite characters onscreen, is hearing their character’s theme music playing in the background. Sega does a wonderful job delivering the classic ditties within each themed court – which is bound to give more than a few gamers a twinge of nostalgia.
A majority of the sound effects seem to come straight from the Virtua Tennis library, with unique effects added to capture the characteristic grunts and squeaks of each of the mascots.
Although I might have painted a pretty grim gameplay picture, Sega Superstars Tennis is far from a total loss. Sega fans are sure to enjoy the blending of Sega’s top sports franchise, and the library of characters that have helped define the Sega experience all these years.
No surprise, the Wii version of Sega Superstars Tennis lacks any of the online play of the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. It is probably for the better since the Wii’s overall online experience leaves a lot to be desired – but it does seem like a strange exclusion given the fact that the other versions pull it off quite solidly.
As long as one is willing to accept the fact that Sega Superstars Tennis is attuned to the younger crowd and does not expect an experience anywhere near as deep as the beloved Virtua Tennis - then Sega Superstars fits the bill.