Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sega Superstars Tennis Review

Although technically the second game in the Sega Superstars lineup (the first being Sega Superstars, for use exclusively with the Eye Toy), its theme is the same: take classic Sega characters, throw them into one game, and watch the fun begin. The only problem: it’s a tennis game.

While tennis wouldn’t exactly be my subject of choice, the good news is that there’s actually not a whole lot of tennis in the game. The main “Superstars Mode” is about tearing through a number of mini-games, which, more often than not, have little to do with tennis. These are set in several different worlds based on some of Sega’s existing franchises from the past and present. By completing the mini-games, unlockable prizes, including music tracks, extra characters, and more gaming worlds, become available.

After selecting a world and a mini-game, players are asked to choose a character. Initially, only half of the roster is available, while the rest are unlocked through finishing off mini-games. Characters seem to be focused primarily on Sega’s Dreamcast era and shortly thereafter, including Sonic, Tails, Eggman, Ulala (Space Channel 5), Amigo (Samba de Amigo), Nights, Beat (Jet Grind Radio), and Aiai (Monkeyball).

Unlike the other Superstars game, there aren’t any “realistic” looking characters, like Akira from Virtua Fighter or Ryo Hazuki from Shenmue. While I understand that the developers wanted to stay with the cartoonish look of the game, I still would’ve liked to have seen more character variety. Many of the bonus characters are nearly identical to their initial counterparts. Do we really need Shadow and Sonic, Ulala and Pudding, Nights and Reala? (On a side note, I never, ever want to hear Nights speak in a game again.) It would’ve been nice to see some of the Crazy Taxi characters or the evolving hacker from Rez.The mini-games take the tennis theme and run with it, tying in to that particular game’s world. Choose the Sonic world and games involve running around Green Hill Zone collecting rings and avoiding enemies. For Jet Grind Radio, players lob balls of paint across the net to tag the other side of the court, all the while being taught valuable lessons of ball control. Puyo Pop Fever has players swinging balls to take out colored puyo orbs. The Space Harrier levels are basically Space Harrier on a tennis court. House of the Dead? It’s like being stuck in a HotD game with only a racket and endless supply of tennis balls. Virtua Cop isn’t even like tennis – it’s just VC without a gun.

Unfortunately, the mini-games aren’t dispersed evenly. While the initial worlds have several games and levels, many of the later ones only have one or two. Bonus courts like Outrun only have a couple of tennis matches, meaning besides the music and beach, it lacks the uniqueness of the other worlds. Whether by design or just lack of time, the Golden Axe and Alex Kidd worlds don’t even have their own courts.SST controls well enough, if not a bit simplistically. To serve, hit a button and a star meter pops up. As it fluctuates, hit the ball at the max star level. The higher it is, the more likely the opponent will have a problem returning the serve. After that, chase the ball down, hit a button to swing or lob, and then point a direction to try to aim the ball. Rinse. Repeat. To help break up the formula, each character has a Superstar move, which will shoot the ball in crazy directions to throw the opponents off. Though they can help seal off a match (and look fancy enough, the first time or two), they don't really add a whole lot to the game.

Game AI seems fair for the most part, minus the exceptionally hard Alex Kidd. There are some inconsistencies with the real world in scoring, as it seems that an extra game is needed to win a set.While SST is a short burst of fun, after I finished it, I never had an itch to play it again. Though there are other modes available (a singles or doubles arcade mode and direct access to some of the mini-games) there’s really no reason play them, as it's just more of the same.

All in all, Sega Superstars Tennis is fun, at least while it lasts. For Sega fans, it’s nice to see these characters back in action and see the company give a nod to its fans and its past. The game is a worth a rent, but overall it’s pretty average.


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