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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 Virtua 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 the lion share of the graphical properties whilst the Wii has nabbed the innovative controller time. We are left with a DS version that neither has a polished sheen or anything innovative to offer.
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 released in the 1990's. I still go back to its openness of play and variety of shots.
It's true that the intelligent simulation model of Virtua Tennis should make for a more immersive experience. But it doesn't do it any better than Top Rank Tennis did some 15 years back. Granted, this is a game with entirely superior animation, fluidity and overall presentation, but it doesn't really add an awful lot to the actual fun of playing the game.
This is a game that will really only deliver full value to those who haven't already played a lot of Virtua Tennis
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.
The game does have one nice addition and that's the samples from each Sega character. This little touch adds a little bit of fan service to the game and helps to gloss over some of its flaws.
There's even some innovation in the controls, 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, I have to admit that the immediacy of D-Pad and button presses was more than a match for the stylus controls on offer.
I would 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.
The game did offer a comprehensive multiplayer mode, something Nintendo seem better at providing on their handheld than their home console. I had plenty of games over Wi-fi 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 I can imagine 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 game is for you.
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