Sega Superstars Tennis (X360) - Review by Kim Fidler
Whenever a new tennis game hits the market, it seems that I'm always right there to greet it with open arms. I've never been a huge tennis fan, but the games always seem to hook me with their easy to master controls, non-confusing rule sets, and colorful graphics. Sega Superstars Tennis is no exception. Having played all of the Mario Tennis games to death, I was a little apprehensive about entering into the world of Sonic and Co. It's almost like cheating on your girlfriend that you never fought with. There's no reason to stray, you feel bad about it, but when all is said and done, you're glad you did it.
Sega Superstars Tennis takes the best aspects of the Sega world, mixes them all together, and creates a game that not only looks great, but is actually fun. The main modes of the game are split between what you've come to expect of the genre. Singles matches, doubles matches, tournaments, and multiplayer. Where SST expands on the modes is with the mini-games and aptly titled "Superstars" mode. Superstars mode is best described as quest-mode. The player chooses a stage that they'd like to conquer, and are then thrust into every single type of mini-game relating to the stage. Some stages only have singles tournaments, where others are full fledged mini-games which are unlocked after completing all tasks within the level. For example, to unlock the "Puyo Pop" mini-game in the main menu, you will have to work through the various things asked of you within Superstars mode. Whether that is clearing a whole screen of Puyos, or obtaining a high score, you'll always be working towards a reward. With over 100 levels, Superstars mode is where most people will spend the majority of their time.
If you are a Sega fan, there will be a ton of stuff for you to see within the game. Every level is crafted in pure Sega fashion, with Sega music, and cameos from all your favorite Sega stars. In total there are 16 playable characters ranging from Sonic to all the way to Alex Kidd. With the inclusion of the 16 characters, it would have been nice to see some of the more known Sega characters make an appearance. I mean, they could have used characters from Power Stone, Crazy Taxi, and Skies of Arcadia, but I suppose they'll be appearing in the followups. Along with the characters, fans are being treated to 10 stages based on some new, and old sega games. While some are great (Jet Set Radio), there are some that just aren't that fun to play on (Curien Mansion aka House of the Dead). The House of the Dead stage just doesn't fit with what I want in a tennis game - a colorful court that doesn't put me in a pissy mood. SST has a great variety of courts, but it would have been nice to have courts for all of the different games in the Superstars mode. For example, the Golden Axe stage is Curien Mansion, instead of being a full fledged Golden Axe level.
With a few exceptions in framerate, everything looks really great in Sega Superstars Tennis. Most of the courts are decorated with enough scenery to not make them look bland, and the character models look better than they ever have before. It's actually rather entertaining to see Gilius from Golden Axe in HD, beside Sega's new school line-up of Shadow, Ulala, and Pudding. One of the more annoying factors about the graphics is how the slowdown on some stages directly affects the gameplay. I really only encountered it on Dr. Eggman's stage, but it makes it frustrating enough to ruin the whole experience. There's nothing more annoying than trying to run across the court to hit a ball, than feeling like your stuck in framerate hell. The sound in SST is passable, but after a few hours of play you'll be finding yourself throwing on a custom playlist. There are tons of classic Sega tunes to unlock, but when that's all there is to listen to, it tends to get old pretty fast. Character voices, while done really well, get repetitive quickly. After every serve you'll hear the same thing over and over, and after a few games you'll want to turn them right off. All complaints aside, the sound is what many would expect of a classic Sega title. Quirky sounds and music that feel right at home with the Sega brand.
If you have ever played a Sega tennis game, you will know that they are the masters of the craft. You could hand the controls over to someone who has never played a tennis title, and in mere minutes they could be rallying with the best of them. All shots and swings are controlled with two buttons, while activating the special meter is set to the triggers. The actual gameplay flows smoothly, and often you'll find yourself not even thinking about your next move. The only confusing aspect of the controls is how they binded the lob and drop shots to a button combo, rather than a single button. I was about 6 hours into the game before I even realized that I could drop a shot close to the net, or lob a shot over my opponents head. In my opinion, it would have made much more sense to bind them to the two unused buttons. All in all, It's nice to see a company focus more on the controls aspect than anything else.
One of the more annoying features about SST is the online multiplayer. While it ran decently, there still are some lag issues that need to be fixed. The ball almost appears to stick to player's racquets, making it very difficult to time a return. There also really isn't a way to set up some good games, because there never really seems to be anyone playing. I spent about 2 hours one evening, and I think I managed to find about 8 games. I'm not sure why the online is empty, but hopefully now that the price has dropped on the game more people will check out some online games.
While Sega Superstars isn't a perfect game, that doesn't mean that it's not worth checking out. It's easy to pick up and play, and a great way to get your non-gaming girlfriend into gaming. Doubles games will provide hours of entertainment among friends, and the Superstars mode will satisfy any single player gaming sessions. With a brand new price point, it's probably one of the best titles you can get for $20.