I remember when I was a kid and our town put in some community tennis courts. My Mom and Dad really got into the game—complete with cool tennis gear and outfits. On the weekends we would go as a family to play and we all got pretty good at it (as amateurs, of course). But I was never really into sports all that much—I prefer a regular exercise regimen. As far as sports-related video games though, that's another story. I like both sports simulations as well as sports arcade games, and since I had enjoyed Hot Shots Golf so much, I was excited to get my hands on Hot Shots Tennis from SCEA.
Tennis for Fun
As the name implies, Hot Shots Tennis is designed to deliver the same cool, off-beat gameplay as the very popular Hot Shots Golf series, but this time for the game of tennis. Hot Shots Tennis provides 14 playable characters (both guys and gals), each with their own personality and playing skills. You can play in 11 different court settings including beaches, parks, ancient ruins, and more. Plus, even though a tennis court is a tennis court in most locations, the game provides three types of court surfaces (Hard, Grass, and Clay) that affect the ball's bounce height and speed in different ways.
In addition, Hot Shots Tennis provides three different modes of play: Training Mode, Fun Time Tennis Mode, and Hot Shots Challenge Mode. Training Mode pits you against a robotic ball server and allows you to practice the different moves available in the game. There are General Practice (perform targeted shots of different types), Service Practice (perform targeted and well timed serves), Volley Practice (return the ball before it bounces and target the on-court panels), and Smash Practice (learn to take advantage of an opponent's lob by hitting a smash or fake smash). Of course, Training Mode does not affect your game stats.
Fun Time Tennis Mode won't affect your game stats either. Use this mode when you just want to play—well, for fun. This mode also doubles as the multiplayer mode. Up to four players (for more than two you need to use a PS2 Multitap) can choose a character/court and play a match. Fun Time also offers a couple of exclusive gameplay options: Set Handicap and Offbeat Rules. Set Handicap lets you add handicaps to characters to slow them down and even out the player abilities. Offbeat Rules allows you to slow the action down and/or make the ball bounce in unexpected directions for more of a challenge. Unfortunately, an online multiplayer option is not available. Hot Shots Golf has the option and it really provided a whole new level of fun to the game. It's a real shame that same feature wasn't provided for Hot Shots Tennis.
Finally, to see all that the game has to offer, you'll need to play through the Hot Shots Challenge Mode. Playing in this mode allows you to unlock characters, costumes, courts and umpires as well as move up in the ranks—Beginner, Amateur, Semi-Pro, and Pro. You start off with two available characters (one guy and one gal), each with a few different costumes from which to choose. There are also a couple of courts available. To unlock all the other available content, you have to win, of course. Challenge Mode also affects your overall stats. The one disappointment here is that you don't get equipment upgrades like you do in Hot Shots Golf.
Hot Shots Tennis Challenge
Now even though some have said that Hot Shots Tennis is too simplistic and doesn't provide enough gameplay variety, it's probably because they didn't take the time to learn all the moves or play through the entire game. Serving consists of a combination of no less than three moves—position your character on the court, toss the ball, and hit the ball. You also have the option of tossing the ball Weakly, Strongly, or Underhand and performing a Topspin, Slice, Flat, or Underhand serve. And of course, each combination makes the ball behave in different ways.
During a match, you have a wide variety of shot options. You can perform a Topspin, Flat, Lob, Slice, Drop, Volley, or Smash shot. The there are even specific types of Volley and Smash shots available. And to make things even more interesting, you can perform a shot forehand or backhand. In addition, timing makes a big difference as to how your characters perform. You'll see speech bubbles displayed over your character that show how well you time your shots—and yes, bad timing can alter the direction of a shot. If that's not enough, the strengths and weaknesses of each character also come into play. For example, each character has a certain amount of stamina, which is used up whenever they move. When stamina runs out, your character becomes sluggish and doesn't perform as well. All of these subtle characteristics make for fun and interesting gameplay.
Hot Shots Attitude and Style
As for graphics and sound, the Hot Shots trademark style is here in full bloom. The cartoonish graphics add to the fun and the sound effects during play are good, except maybe for the clapping of the crowd, which is an obvious repeated sound loop. The music fits the style of the game, but it gets annoying during play, which is probably why the programmers decided to keep it off in the options by default. The animation is the real stand out here as you can see a number details like the small clouds of dust that are kicked up as your character runs around the court.
Game, Set, Match
Although the lack of equipment upgrades and online play do detract from Hot Shots Tennis, the game still manages to provide a fun and engaging arcade tennis experience. Anyone can enjoy a quick game by simply picking up a controller and having at it, and those that want something more can take the time to learn all the moves and make their way through the Challenge mode. Tennis anyone?