Sony’s answer to Mario-like gameplay, the Hot Shots series is synonymous with accessible gameplay, cute cartoony characters and over-the-top power moves. Players familiar with the series’ hallmark Hot Shots Golf will notice immediately that the characters in this newest chapter have swapped-out clubs for tennis rackets, but fans can be assured that the same arcade gameplay can be found in this outing. This is definitely no Virtua Tennis 3. Where Sega amazed and frustrated players with realistic physics and amazing textures, Sony takes the more-fun approach and delivers a surprisingly solid game that was hard to put down even in the single-player campaign.
The overall look of the characters in Hot Shots Tennis is heavily inspired by anime, and for that matter, the character voices could easily be samples straight out of the Sailor Moon series. In spite of the anime inspiration, though, we were surprised how good the courts look. It’s safe to say Sony has mastered getting everything out of its PS2 graphics chipset; from the reflective courts inside majestic castles to the sun-drenched beaches, we were utterly amazed at how beautiful Hot Shots Tennis looks. Talk about incentive to unlock every court in the game.
The game is broken down into three modes. As simple as the game looks, there is actually some depth to the gameplay, so Training Mode lets you work on optimizing your serve, volley and smash techniques through a clever point system. Hot Shots Challenge Mode, meanwhile, is the campaign, where you begin with a beginning “all around” boy or girl player and work your way through the various classes to unlock more characters, costumes and courts. And finally, Fun Time Tennis Mode lets you attach the Multitap and play with up to three other players; however, you must unlock all the characters and backgrounds if you want to choose from a really good variety.
The various basic techniques that you have at your disposal are a topspin, flat shot, lob, slice, drop shot, volley and smash. Each can be used by pressing the assigned button, but the real strategy is to associate your hits with the analog stick. It is here where you can adjust the trajectory and spin of the ball and really throw your opponent off once you’ve mastered it. At first, we liked the color icons indicating where the ball would bounce, especially when we received a volley, but once the icon went away in later classes it was difficult to gauge where the ball would land.
That’s right, “later classes.” Hot Shots Tennis is broken down into a class system in which you begin in the Beginning and work your way up to Special. Our favorite was the Japan Class, simply because the name made no sense compared to the other class names. Apparently there are some great players in Japan. In the first few classes we didn’t find the AI to be very difficult to master, as you could simply serve the ball hard and fast and then slice it hard in the opposite direction of your opponent. We were able to get through and unlock quite a few levels, costumes and players using this method. But, once you get to the Japan Class, things start to kick up a notch. The fact remains that this game was designed for recreational players, so don’t expect any of the difficulty found in Virtua Tennis 3, but there’s definitely an increased challenge as you progress through the game.
If you’re looking for a game with character customization, you’re in for some disappointment, because as much as you may love a particular character, he or she will always be associated with a particular class. As a result, you’re almost forced to use a pro player in order to beat more challenging players. There are plenty of costumes to change the look of your player, but you’re still always going to have the same stats. It would have been nice to apply game points to character abilities.
It also would’ve been nice to see a bit more attention paid to the sound design, as that’s probably the lowest point of the game. Cute, broken English or high-pitched fanfare might be certain gamers’ cup of tea, but in our opinion it actually became more pleasant to simply play the game muted.
Overall, though, Hot Shots Tennis plays like the series should. It’s a game that is easy to pick up and a lot of fun to play, especially with the Multitap, and with a lot of great arcade-style moments and unlockable content, players should not only stay motivated to keep playing one more match, but should actually look forward to it as well.
- Overall: 7.8
- Hot Shots brings its fantastic gameplay and cutesy characters to the tennis court. We would have liked more character customization, but the fun factor does not disappoint.