A Sonic Game that Doesn't Suck?
Here's the gist of this game: it's basically a simplified version of Virtua Tennis (in my opinion, the greatest tennis video game of all time, except for Pong of course) but with Sonic and Tails replacing Federer and Roddick. The control scheme is, unfortunately, not as precise and fluid as that of Virtua, but it gets the job done. Basically, you use the X and A buttons as your fast and power shots respectively; if you want to change it up a bit and use a lob shot, you have to press the A button then quickly press the X button, or vice versa for a drop shot. As shoddy and uninspired as this might sound, I would've preferred if they just copied the Virtua Tennis scheme exactly; the controls take a bit more getting used to, but when it comes down to it, it works fine, even if it's not the most intuitive way to hit the ball. Each character has a special "Superstar" volley that can be activated if you score enough points or do well during a rally. However, these shots can be really unbalanced at times. Alex Kidd's shot pretty much forces you to either miss the ball completely or be hit by an anvil (and still miss the ball completely), while Beat's special shot is extremely easy to beat. You do have the option to turn this off as well, in case you just want a straight game of tennis.
As is with these types of arcadey sports games, there are a whole bunch of modes and unlockables for you to toy around with. You have 8 starting characters, with 8 more to unlock as you play the "Planet Superstars" mode, which acts as a sort of challenge mode for your character. This mode has you playing mini-games or normal tennis matches/tournaments in courts based off games such as Space Harrier, Super Monkey Ball & (my personal favorite) Virtua Cop (renamed "Virtua Squad" here for some reason). The latter game has you aiming your shots and hitting targets shaped like baddies from the original game in the original stage of the arcade game, accompanied by a remixed soundtrack to boot- it's excellent fan service. I wish the game went more in that direction though. For example, 5 of the 16 characters are from Sonic games. There had to have been other games to pull characters from, I feel (House of the Dead zombie perhaps? Or maybe Virtua Fighter characters?). Plus, I noticed that unlike something like Super Smash Bros., if you aren't familiar at all with Sega after the Genesis days, you'll be lost as to who these characters are. With Bros. everyone knew who Samus and Link and Pikachu were, but I'd be hardpressed to find more people who knew Gilius was from Golden Axe or that there were other characters in Space Channel 5 or Jet Set Radio besides Ulala and Beat respectively.
The graphics are solid for the most part. The courts look gorgeous and serve justice to the properties that they try to emulate, even though it can be hard to see the ball in some stages. The characters look great as well, with a few exceptions- Gilius looks weird, as does Alex Kidd, but those characters were forever banished to the 2D realm, so it's not Sega's fault that they look out of place in a 3D game. My main gripe is with the soundtrack. Sound effects are fine- you'll hear familiar jingles from games and the grunts, voice acting and the sound effects of the ball hitting the racket are spot on. However, I really wished that they didn't have remixed tunes from the games. With a few exceptions, most of the music in the game are either remixed or completely original for the game compositions. We don't get the Green Hill Zone theme when we play on Sonic's stage, nor do we get the original theme for Outrun on that stage. That's a minor gripe, though. Besides, you have custom soundtrack support on the Xbox- you can just listen to the original themes on your iPod (or Zune?) if you like.
There are the prerequisite singles and doubles matches, along with a quick tournament mode and online play. Online play is as you expect; there's a TV mode ripped directly from Virtua Tennis as well with the normal one-on-one ranked matches (where you can't see the name of the person you're playing against, oddly enough). Overall, the game is best played with a group of friends, in the same room preferably.
Sega Superstars Tennis can be best described as this- a flashy, simple piece of fan service dressed up in a fast-paced game of 3D Pong. If that sounds appealing to you, you probably picked up this game long ago. Still, if you're on the fence about the game, I urge you to give it a try, especially considering the easy Achievement Points you'll rack up, and the fact that the game is going for $20 new at most stores now (hell, I got it for $7 on Amazon during a special deal a few weeks back). What you'll find is a flawed but fun tennis game that at least has style and paniche. And sometimes, that's all you can ask for.