Anyone who has ever wanted to play tennis on a portable system has really only ever had two solid choices, Mario Tennis on Nintendo's handhelds or Virtua Tennis on the PSP. If a Mario Gameboy Advance game isn't up your alley then there are slim pickings, most of which, aren't even worth mentioning. This brings us to Sega Superstars Tennis, Sega's attempt at a portable tennis title, but is the game any good or a portable tennis experience we'd rather forget about?
Sega Superstars Tennis isn't just a tennis title featuring Sonic the Hedgehog, in fact there are several characters in the game from past and present Sega franchises. Yes, Sonic the Hedgehog is a playable character, but so is Ulala from Space Channel 5, as well as Beat from Jet Set Radio. Superstars Tennis isn't the first title to bring together classic Sega characters in a different setting, the original Eyetoy enabled Sega Superstars also reunited several Sega characters.
Sega Superstars Tennis is a different title than the console versions. First up, the game offers up some different single player modes than the console versions. Aside from the filler quick play option there are three main single player options in the DS game, match, tournament and games. Match lets you choose any two familiar Sega characters as well as a court. The tournament option is filled with a wide range of options, with only the first tournament open at the start.
The games option is the most in-depth single player mode and is essentially a reworked version of the Planet Superstars mode from the console version. Rather than travelling from world to world players simply select from several classic Sega titles (Sonic the Hedgehog, ChuChu Rocket, House of the Dead to name a few) and then complete missions which draw inspiration from the chosen title. For example, the first mission for The House of the Dead levels is one where players have to hit the tennis ball in the direction of the zombies to defeat them. Only the first mission is available for each title, with subsequent mission becoming available as players progress. The mini games are quite decent and the Nintendo DS alsofeatures exclusive missions, which is a decent bonus.
There are a few multiplayer options, but they are disappointingly limited. The game does support game share, but doesn't offer a full multiplayer experience, only allowing players to play on the one court with the one character in game share. For the full multiplayer experience players will need multiple copies of the game. It's also hard not to feel that the lack of online multiplayer is a severe missed opportunity, especially considering the game includes a high score option; even being able to view other high scores online would have been an appreciated bonus.
Overall though, Sega Superstars Tennis isn't light on content. It is however the gameplay where the title begins to fall apart. First up, there are two control methods; stylus and buttons. When stylus control is on (it is thankfully off by default) the bottom screen is used to show the score and to move your character around. Tapping the screen hits the ball and to move a character round players have to drag the stylus around the touch screen, it's a clumsy system that feels tacked on. Button control is thankfully a lot more intuitive. A and B are used to hit the ball and the L and R buttons in the Nintendo DS activate the superstar abilities. When players keep returning the ball a star will light up under the player and by pushing L and R the player will 'transform'. This transformation brings with it a special move unique to that specific character (Sonic for example turns into Super Sonic and can execute a more powerful shot).
Anyone who actually wants to play properly will probably turn these special shots off in the options menu, because these shots just end up feeling like more of a distraction than a useful tool. While the controls are easy enough to learn, the game on the whole, ends up feeling shallow. The AI is basic and remarkably easy to beat, resulting in some boring gameplay. It really is ironic that the tennis is so average, whereas the mini games are perfectly suited to the Nintendo DS.
We really wanted to have a heck of a lot of fun with Sega Superstars Tennis, but the game just didn't entertain us as much as expected. Firstly, the gameplay is shallow, which considering it's from Sega (who have released the stunning Virtua Tennis series) is a surprise. With basic controls and simplistic AI the tennis is simply average in Sega Superstars Tennis. The highlight of the package is actually the mini games and while they do become repetitive after a while, they are perfectly suited to the Nintendo DS. Unfortunately, it seems that those who are seriously looking for a Nintendo DS tennis title are best off waiting to see how Top Spin 3 turns out, or waiting for Mario to make an appearance on the tennis court again.