All Prince of Tennis jokes aside, Hot Shots Tennis is the first deviation I’ve seen from the Hot Shots Golf formula that developer Clap Hanz is usually known for. They’ve taken what they’ve learned from Hot Shots Golf and have plugged it in to a tennis game, and the result is a fast and somewhat friendly hybrid of tennis and your typical party game. And I applaud them for trying to take the high road. It may be without the Wii’s trademark waggle, which in some ways can hurt this title but that doesn’t mean it is any less fun than Nintendo’s pack-in software. With its deceptive learning curve and party like aesthetics, Hot Shots Tennis is a title that easily fits in with a family looking for a game of tennis while the courts are rained out.
First off the game has a very childish look to it; this is typical for developer Clap Hanz, somewhat super-deformed anime archetypes, pitted on the courts that take place in a variety of locations. There are eleven different courts so the visuals never get boring. The game runs at a smooth frame-rate thanks in part to the simplistic visuals, but I still think a game like this could have a lot more going on in terms of graphics considering how late we are in the PS2 life cycle. And when you think about how long the Hot Shots series has been around, you almost feel like you’re paying for a “Greatest Hits” era title. Audio is nothing special. The casio-esque music coupled with the surprisingly sour and out of place British accents do little to help make this game exciting at all. I really think I could easily fall asleep with this game’s music playing in the background.
One the presentation side you’ve got a crisp, clean menu system that is easy to navigate, and whole lot of options to how you want your matches played. You can set up to have irregular rules, and allow your characters to play with weights to slow them down for a handicap. You are also able to customize a number of games to a set and even select your umpire. These little bits of customization do help keep the game a little bit on the brisk and fresh side. Though this game is so easy to pick up and play you’d be hard pressed to find a friend that would actually need to use a handicap.
Game play is almost a stunningly bare affair. From the outset you are presented with the game’s three main modes. The star of which is the Hot Shots Challenge. Here is where you take on computer opponents in order to progress through the Hot Shots ranks. Basically you spend the first two or three hours mowing through the beginner classes, and when I say beginner I mean my neighbors child could beat them. It’s not until you reach the tier one rank that the game really starts to present a challenge by throwing some wacky backspin shots your way. And along the way you’ll unlock new tennis players to play as who come with a higher set of stats than others. Of course you could continue to play as the beginner character you started with, if you should so be inclined to pick your poison in such a manner.
Personally I would have liked it if you just selected a character and proceeded to build up the character, giving you a sense of accomplishment in beating all those who would dare to stand against you and your mighty racket. Overall there is not a whole lot of difficulty either. In fact the way the game makes up for the lack of AI is by giving them insane turning shots, a lot of which come off the serve and are really hard to hit. To me this cheapens the game because you spend the opponent’s serves letting aces fly by your head, only to destroy them in the next game by placing them in spots where they can not return the ball. Another way the game tries to slip one by on the challenge is by forcing you to use the lower tiered while taking on some of the more powerful opponents, which will put you through your paces as your slower, and weaker character struggles against the powerhouse.
The actual number of shots you are given is limited to seven and you make use of the analog stick to place where you want the ball to go. This would be great if you weren’t already moving to get to the ball, so to snap the analog stick in the opposite direction requires very specific timing, and unfortunately trying to lob back a tough shot will more often than not land right where your opponent can smash it back. Perhaps if the aim were placed on the shoulder buttons with each one depicting an area of the court, then things might be a touch easier. But alas they are not, so it really is up to how you set up a serve and place the opponent as far to the left or right as possible and then try to abuse that method of play. This will wind up taking out the highest tiered opponents, which is really quite sad.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of the Hot Shots Challenge you can mosey on over to the Fun Time Tennis which is your basic multiplayer function. And should you have only yourself to enjoy a good round of tennis with, well you can always put a computer in the place of that friend who just happened to be out walking the dog or doing something else to save them the boredom of this. Or say for whatever reason you’ve never been able to get a firm grasp on the game of tennis. There is a Training Mode for that, and it will guide you through all the different aspects of the game, from teaching you how to serve to how to place your shots on the grass, or clay.
All in all, Hot Shots Tennis feels like a cheap imitation to games like Virtua Tennis or even Rockstar’s Table Tennis. With both of those games you had a better sense of control, and they both look better to boot. Granted that’s not what Clap Hanz is going for with this kind of a game. But with a weak AI, this game isn’t a whole lot of fun to play on your own. If you are desperate for some new tennis action then wait for this to go down in price or split it with a friend and make sure you play it together. Because with the way this game plays, you’ll both be over it before you even get a chance to play the multiplayer. Again I applaud Clap Hanz for trying to get out of their Hot Shots Golf mold. But they fell in to a trap when trying to use so many of their formulas that don’t translate well over to tennis.