Tennis games have always proven to be lighthearted fun, good for wasting time and busting some moves with the digital tennis star counterparts. Upon loading up the latest release, one is always reminded of Pong, the legendary yet strangely addictive game from decades past - which is still replicated and recreated today. Tennis Masters for the Nintendo DS attempts to provide a solid base of racquet bashing on the go, but fails quite sufficiently. Somehow rendering gameplay less enjoyable than Pong, Tennis Masters ranks low on the DS recommendation list.
Two modes of play are available: Exhibition and Tournament. The problem here is that it doesn't matter which you pick - they both play out in exactly the same fashion. In Exhibition, you'll begin a match with no risk and nothing at stake, while in the other you'll play many games and periodically get a glance at a tiny leaderboard that ultimately means nothing. There isn't much motivation to succeed, save unlocking a few new courts - which all feel the same, despite claiming differences in speed and ball movements.
Who is your favourite tennis player? Federer, Agassi, Kuerten? You'll find that none of these big names make an appearance, and instead we get to play with the big boys - Brian, Martin, and even Jon! In the interest of promoting our European friends through the wonderful sport of Tennis, you'll also have the option to select Henree, Leif and Erich. Amazing. In case you haven't realised, these players are completely fictional, and have no relation at all to any noteworthy player. Different statistics accompany the various lads of the Tennis Masters, but again it's just not something noticeable. You'd want to make playing the game fun before trying to discern differences between selectable characters.
For some reason, while playing Tennis Masters, a strange feeling of nostalgia popped up, reminding everyone of the classic Agassi tennis title on the Sega Mega Drive. This is because Tennis Masters is not only a shallower game, but it also looks worse. In fact, this is probably the single worst looking game on the DS. With hardware capable of 3D graphics and large open environments, surely we can expect a reasonable amount of visual flair in a simple tennis title? Unfortunately, there's nothing beyond tiny sprites and extraordinarily limited animation to be found here, which is a negative exponent on the already small DS screen. Players are tiny and consist of only a few colours, and each swing (many "different" swings actually use the exact same animation) consists of minimal frames. Forget even the 16-bit era - this level of quality may have been capable on a NES.
Physical movements and character actions are extremely limited. There are three variations of shot - standard, lob and slice shot. The only real control over where the ball may travel is handled with the D-pad, which vaguely aligns the ball on a wayward path if held steadfast while striking. The little men running around the court actually stop dead to swing every shot, and have an extremely long recovery time. For example, misinterpret where the ball is going to land by a fraction, and you'll have missed your only chance at a return. There'll be no time to try and get in a second swing; the ball will have travelled out of the court and into the pocket of some punk little kid while you're still finishing the first swing, upon which time the game will grant you free movement again. Running and swinging simultaneously for stylish saves (you can't even make a heroci dive for the ball) is completely out of the question.
No touch screen functionality is available beyond menu scrolling, and in the one extra addition to the controls - power shots. Holding down the L or R buttons enables power shot mode and brings up a touch screen menu, and while it's theoretically possible to utilise the screen, it's far easier to just press a face button for the swing. The obvious idea of using the stylus and touch screen to physically swing the racquet is blatantly ignored.
What else is there to say? Tennis Masters actually realises its shortcomings in the hit detection department, and includes a helper feature which shows where you should run to in order to hit the ball correctly. It would have been much more fun to actually make hitting easier, and let the player decide the best course of action. Even with the little blue indicator, hitting the ball is still very awkward. Serving is also difficult, requiring timed buttons pressed in combination with the D-pad aligning a cross-hair where the ball will land over the net. Again, touch screen pinpoint aiming would have been great, and without it, it's easier to simply opt for the "safe" serve every time.
Since a score for sound is required, it's easy enough to go over the auditory features of Tennis Masters. You'll hear a small "thwock" every time the ball is hit, and half a second of static to represent applause from the crowd. There's a neat metallic clang as the score pops up on screen, and a bloop when an option in the menu is selected. Cool. Oh, and there's a small voice clip announcing scores.
Tennis Masters isn't really fun - in fact, it's no fun. Clumsy control combines with simply terrible graphics to create a very poor experience for the Nintendo DS. Sure, there's enough ambition here to include a bunch of varying shots and "characters", but if the basics of tennis play aren't covered well enough, any extra content will be lost forever before it gets a chance to be seen. Avoid.