IGN Review of Sega Superstars Tennis
Since its earliest days of arcade glory, SEGA has woven itself inextricably into gaming history. With the introduction of the Genesis in the waning years of the 1980s, the scrappy company provided an alternative to the cutesy, ultra-nice console characters popularized by Nintendo.
Like any underdog worth its salt, SEGA has gathered in its wake an army of diehard fans who can't get enough Sonic the Hedgehog, Jet Set Radio, Space Channel 5 and even the original SEGA mascot, Alex Kidd himself. If you count yourself among the Sega faithful, you'll find a lot to like in SEGA Superstars Tennis, the latest title from Sumo Digital, the UK-based Foundation 9 studio responsible for developing past Sega properties like Virtua Tennis 3 and OutRun 2006.
But even -- and maybe especially -- hardcore SEGA aficionados will probably find SEGA Superstars Tennis disappointing. Although there are 16 SEGA characters to be found within its mini-games, bracketed tournaments and, yes, even more mini-games, Superstars stops short of delivering either a top-notch tennis party game or an all-out Sega fan-fest.
SSST starts you off with eight playable characters from the SEGA universe: Sonic, Tails and Dr. Eggman from the Sonic the Hedgehog series; AiAi from Super Monkey Ball; NiGHTS; Ulala from Space Channel 5; Beat from Jet Set Radio; and Amigo from Samba de Amigo.
You can use this motley crew to jump into quick-play tennis matches, either locally or online, or you can start whittling away at the mini-games that form the backbone of SEGA Superstars Tennis. Although there is a short tournament mode (I plowed through it in less than 30 minutes), there is no career mode as there would be in a standard tennis game.
Most of your time will be spent playing mini-games in a variety of different SEGA-themed areas. Here, you'll unlock new characters -- like Gilius the non-textured Golden Axe dwarf, Pudding from Space Channel 5 and Alex Kidd -- and open new mini-game areas. At first, making your way through the loosely tennis-based games is fun, but many of the stages drag on and the countless variations on the same themes begin to drag quickly.
Some of the stages use their namesakes fairly well, challenging you to use your button-pressing skills to achieve objectives in a manner appropriate to the theme of the stage. In the Super Monkey Ball stage for example, you're charged with knocking monkey balls through gates by serving tennis balls at them.
A few of the stages are standouts that I found especially fun, at least at first. There's a PuyoPop Fever area that requires you to clear Puyos within a given time period, and the House of the Dead stage (although curiously named "Curien Mansion" instead) lets you serve tennis balls at shuffling zombies.
But some mini-game stages are either extremely dull (Jet Set Radio), or completely irrelevant. The Golden Axe stage doesn't take place in Yuria at all but rather recycles the zombie-infested tennis court behind the Curien Mansion. The Space Harrier stage could have been the best part of SSST but is plagued by targeting problems and other strange choices.
Although some of these stages, available in a menu called Planet Superstars, are made up entirely of mini-games, others are straight three-match tennis tournaments or individual singles and doubles matches. If plowing through a mountain of repetitive mini-games on goofy tennis courts sounds like your thing and you've been dying for an opportunity to apply Virtua Tennis-style gameplay to a SEGA-themed party game, don't get your wallet out just yet.
Sumo Digital could have gone one of two ways with the controls of Superstars. They could have retained the console control scheme of Virtua Tennis 3, in which specialized strokes like slices and lobs were controlled by hitting individual face buttons. Or, they could have gone the Wii Sports tennis route and assigned all strokes to a single input type.
Instead, they split the difference. On the Xbox 360 controller, regular ground strokes are controlled by the A button; fast shots are controlled by the X button; lobs are initiated by tapping A and then quickly tapping X; and drop shots are made by doing the opposite -- hitting X and then quickly tapping A. It's a silly control scheme that adds unnecessary complexity to the game for casual players and limits the pace of the game for those more experienced.
It's an unfortunate control choice, and Superstars does not allow advanced controller mapping, so you're basically stuck with the two-button configuration. But at least I can choose whether I want the umpire's voice to be male or female...
One of Superstars' calling cards is its Superstar State function, which, when activated, allows the characters to turn into even zanier versions of themselves (Sonic becomes a super-fast Super Sonic, for example). Practically, though, most Superstar powers are fairly useless against AI players, and the ones that do actual damage to your opponent are extremely annoying to play against in one-on-one matches. Luckily, you can turn the function off, an option I quickly took advantage of.
Superstars has a strong multiplayer function that works well both online and offline. Mini-games and matches can be played with 1-4 players locally or online, and Sumo resurrected the TV function from Virtua Tennis 3 to allow online players to watch highlights and live matches from around the world in real-time.
In my online experience, the game ran respectably, with only a moderate amount of lag during play. Facing off against human opponents, either on your couch or over the Interwebs, is the best thing about Superstars. But the gimped control scheme dilutes even that experience, making the overall multiplayer somewhat dull.
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