Having a ball.
Wii Sports has turned us all into very active gamers. After sitting on the couch so long, finally getting up and moving around - swiftly, even - might have left you panting and with a bit of a sore elbow. What better juncture for Hot Shots Tennis to come along for your PS2 and put your butt back on the couch and your thumbs back into shape?
[image1]“Tennis?” You may splutter, “Don't the Hot Shots stick to golf?” No longer. They've branched out and done a fair job translating this sport into a cartoony, yet at times feisty game. For instance, my first match: Now I have been playing my fair share of Wii Sports tennis, which requires very little more than a decently timed wave of your arm, so maybe I wasn't accustomed to the slightly more complex control scheme, but I got pwn'd. And how! I was actually worried for a moment that the learning curve was to be a horrific death climb, that I'd really have to claw my way tooth and nail up to the top ranks.
Actually, it wasn't so bad. The fact that they expect you to have all the basic shots (slices, etc.) and placement down by your first match may be asking a bit much, but lobbing over someone at the net and using plenty of cross shots are easy tricks to pick up. Honestly, I've always been impressed with the way a decent tennis game can improve your real skills by honing your strategy. It won't improve your backhand, but if you can get your own shots up to speed, knowing where to place them will never be a problem.
The hardest part of Hot Shots is playing across the court. Usually the camera will stay on whichever side you happen to be on, but certain Hot Shots Challenge matches have requirements - things like no shot markers or using beginner characters only, but sometimes it's the evil and deadly frozen camera. Other than that, once i got the hang of the game, I rarely lost a match, except to the exceptionally high-ranked players at the very end.
[image2]You start off the game as a Tier 5 Beginners Class tennis noob with two character options, a boy and a girl of nearly identical well-roundedness. As you progress through the (whopping!) thirteen tiers (up to Tennis Guru) and six classes (wayyyy past Pro to World and Special) you'll unlock new characters of multiple nationalities, a handful of umpires, costumes ranging from surfer to old-fashioned Americana, and courts in such varied locations as the Wild West and the Queen's garden.
Characters are categorized according to their strengths, with net players being my particular favorite for their nimble feet and quick volleying. Even the in-game hints will tell you after a while that, “The best offense is a good defense.” As you might guess, the power server/smasher build isn't terribly useful once the rally is going. Kind of lunky and slow. That's really ok, though, because I'm not sure how comfortable I feel playing as the huge Native American (“I'm a totem pole!” Can't believe he says that...) who shouts “Yee haw!” like a cowboy when he wins. Advanced characters (advanced not so much because of their rank, but because of the impeccable timing necessary to succeed with them) sometimes exhibit special shots like curved serves, but no crazy super powers à la Prince of Tennis.
Some of the Challenge matches are doubles, which makes for a refreshing change of pace and also presents the opportunity to make actual progress while playing with a friend if you like. More multiplayer can be found in the Fun Time Tennis Mode. There, players dictate various game parameters, including whether they'd like any “offbeat rules.”
[image3]Now, having the ball bounce oddly is something I can understand. It mixes up play, makes things more hectic. That's fine and maybe even fun, but slow motion? Tennis is a fast paced sport, and the faster it goes, the more exciting it is. Hot Shots Tennis rewards skilled players with some extremely tense moments. Shots can ding off the post, thwap the net, or even peg another player. Why on earth would you want to slow that down? Sure, in real life, it's interesting to watch the ball do that wubble-wubble thing, but playing this game in molasses mode is just boring.
Not like that's really too much of a complaint, because it's an option you can totally ignore. Other nit-picks: the robot umpire sounds like an annoying old person, not an artificial person; for some reason the ball, when smashed, rips up not only the clay courts, but also the hard ones and even hardwood floor; there's a bit of the herky-jerk when switching between the end of a point and the replay animation. Other than that it sometimes felt like when lobs come and bounce over your head at the very back of the court that the game keeps you from hitting them with an invisible wall, which is slightly annoying sometimes, but not enough to break the game.
All in all, the Hot Shots have made a pretty good outing of it and I'd wish them luck if they ever decided to go further afield with, say, basketball. Hot Shots Tennis is a spunky game with enough depth to make things interesting, yet it still retains a goofy arcade charm. So much for getting fit.