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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Sega Superstars Tennis (Playstation 3)

Giving players the chance to take their favorite franchises to the courts, Sega Superstar Tennis is an enjoyable, if slightly superficial game that offers entertaining gameplay that's accessible to new players yet offers challenge for veterans as well. The game includes more than a dozen classic Sega characters including Nights, Sonic, Tails, Beat and Gum from Jet Set Radio and many other familiar faces. The tennis matches are structured as regular games, with traditional tennis scoring and rules applying to the match. Each character brings a unique style to the court and is armed with an array of special moves that allow them to perform devastating attacks. These are fairly simple to perform, but can't be used as a crutch if you fall too far behind. For example, Ulala from Space Channel 5 will unleash a few of her alien friends onto the court to block your shots, while Sonic will enable speed dashes that make it difficult to break his shots. Using these moves can give you a point here and there, but the skill on the court is the most important. However, they add some unique gameplay elements to Superstars Tennis. These different techniques make each player a distinct personality that reflects their own individual style.

Controlling each character is a relatively simple task, and most shots and volleys can be performed by pressing a single button, which makes for a pick-up-and-play experience that should be immediately accessible for most players. There is some strategy involved in making extended volleys, but the arcade-oriented approach keeps things simple. Most players should be able to return shots with little problem and the game's design doesn't offer much in the way of strategy. The characters themselves move quickly across the court and there intuitive controls make things very easy. You can't really expect too much realism from a game that has cartoon characters, but the game's nods to physics and ball bounce at least give the gameplay some grounding. From a gameplay standpoint, Superstar Tennis feels a bit like a simpler, watered down version of Virtua Tennis, but with the added bonus of Sega fan service elements that should please those who love these classic characters. There are 15 characters included in all, with an approximately even split between immediately available and unlockable ones. Sega Superstar Tennis allows players to choose either a single or doubles match and set the number of points and volleys for each match. You can battle it out against an opponent in either a single match or play through a series of tournaments that can be used to unlock additional characters and courts. The game allows for either solo play against the AI or via split screen against a friend and also supports online play.

While the traditional tennis games are fun to play, Sega has added value to the game by adding a series of mini-games to the franchise. Each of these is based on a popular Sega franchise and give an interesting twist on the game they represent. For example, in the Jet Grind Radio game, you have to pick up a series of paint cans and hit the ball to complete a tag on the pavement, matching the colors and styles of each. It's a bit trickier to do in practice than it seems and the timer makes it even harder. Another cool game is based on the House of the Dead franchise where you have to hit balls at zombies before they can attack your character. There are ten distinct mini-games in all and they add a ton of replay value to the game. These modes make the game a bit more long-lasting, but there really isn't as much depth as you'd expect, which is disappointing.

From a visual standpoint, the game does an adequate job in bringing the classic franchises to life, with each court acting as a mini-stage based on a popular Sega franchise. For example, Sonic's court looks like the Green Hill Zone complete with loops in the background while the Jet Grind Radio stage has the court set in the center of Neo-Tokyo. The funkiest stage is based on Samba De Amigo, with its crazy cast of characters bringing a humorous look to the courtside action. The accompanying music also comes from the popular series' soundtracks as well, which makes you feel like you've been given a window into these series. While there are several interesting stages available at the outset, playing through the tournaments unlocks more. From a technical standpoint, the characters animate nicely and look and sound as they should, but the game's look is fairly basic overall and probably won't impress anyone looking for next-gen visuals. Most of the in-game action is presented in a standard top-down view, with a standard angled perspective, with the occasional breaks for close-ups after winning shots. Its fairly basic by today's standards and lacks imagination. For a Playstation 3 title, the game looks surprisingly flat and somewhat last-generation, looking like a last-gen title that's been upscaled slightly for HD visuals. It's a somewhat annoying thing, but given the title's multi-platform launch, cutting these corners isn't unexpected. On the bright side, Sega has done a fairly decent job in bringing the feel of each franchise to this tennis game, and fans of the company will be happy to see many of their favorites in action in this different sports context, despite the engine's lack of cutting edge features.

While the selection of characters spans a variety of Sega series, the number of playable characters feels a little bit limited in points, especially if you want to go deeper into the game and find that there isn't much beyond the surface. It's a little bit disappointing that Sega has chosen to somewhat waste what could have been a golden opportunity to showcase their franchise characters. To be honest, the company has missed the ball so many times over the past few years, another let down is more expected than really surprising. This is one of those titles that looks really cool on the shelf, but doesn't quite deliver on its promise. If you go in with low expectations, you'll probably be happy with Sega Superstars Tennis, but most players will probably end up wishing there was more to the game than there is. - Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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