Developer: Clap Hanz
Release Date: 7/17/07
Genre: Sports – Tennis
The team at Clap Hanz has mastered the art of creating easy-to-learn-yet-hard-to-master arcade-style golf games with the venerable Hot Shots Golf franchise, but if you’re like me you’ve always wanted to see what they could do with another sport. It’s taken a while, but Clap Hanz has finally branched away from the links and hit the tennis courts with the new PS2 release of Hot Shots Tennis, and surely enough they’ve managed to serve up a real winner.
In true Hot Shots form, Hot Shots Tennis is all about marrying instant pick-up-and-play accessibility that eases the casual gamer in without any hassle or frustration with an underlying layer of depth and strategy that will keep the more advanced gamer coming back to try to master, and no matter which category you fall under you’ll have a good time. Unlike the similarly themed Mario tennis titles, Hot Shots Tennis forgoes crazy power-up shots and court distractions and sticks within the basic rules and regulations of the sport, and as a result the gameplay is quite realistic, despite what you’d expect looking at the cutesy characters and art style.
All the standard tennis moves are here, including topspin shots, flat shots, slices, lobs, drop shots, smashes and serves, and each is easy to pull off at the quick press of a button and aim of the analog stick. Simply learning these basic shots is enough to get you winning against the CPU early on and having a ball with your friends in multiplayer. But at the same time, the game’s fairly realistic physics combined with a timing system that provides instantaneous feedback as to how well you are timing your shots via different thought bubble indicators — a turtle symbol means you’re swinging to slow, a rabbit means you’re too fast, and a music symbol shows that you’re right on the sweet spot – promote practice and encourage you to strive to get better and better in order to ascend to the top ranks of the main Challenge mode.
Each of the game’s 14 playable characters also has various strengths and weaknesses that dictate how you should use them on the court, and depending on your timing with a character’s strongest shot you’ll be able to wrack up some serious winners, or some serious errors if your timing is off and you try to get too greedy with your shot angles. Hitting the sweet spot with a strong server, for example, will lead to an ace or an easy put away on the service return, while doing the same on your ground strokes with a baseline specialist will have you nailing winners right on the line. Some of the more advanced characters you unlock later in the game even have tricky spins with their specialty shot type when the ball is perfectly timed, pretty much guaranteeing a point when successfully pulled off.
Hot Shots Tennis’ main mode of play is the Hot Shots Challenge, a single-player career mode of sorts in which you compete through six progressively challenging classes of singles and doubles matches (plus an unlockable seventh Special Class) in order to rise in status (all the way up to Tennis King) and unlock the full assortment of characters, costumes, courts and umpires that are available. Unlike most other tennis games, there aren’t any character skill advancement features for building stats and such like an RPG, which is kind of a shame. But the unlockable content is ultimately rewarding enough to carry you through to the end.
Fun Time Tennis is the game’s other mode (well, there’s also a Training Mode, but it’s about as barebones as training modes get), and it is basically the arena for multiplayer competition (though you can play exhibitions by yourself as well). Online play isn’t supported here (it’s not like it was expected though), but the two-player head-to-head and four-player multi-tap doubles action make for a fun-filled group play experience. A couple of “Offbeat Rules” can be turned on in multiplayer as well, adding effects like slow-motion and irregular ball bounces to the mix, but overall the gameplay handles the same as it does in the Challenge mode.
As you’d expect from a Hot Shots title, Hot Shots Tennis is presented with a widely appealing cartoony graphical style, packed with bright colors, caricature-esque character models, over-the-top animations, sparkly special effects and charming text bubble effects accompanying crowd applause and other sounds. The game’s 11 court venues are also quite lovely, spanning a variety of locales, from parks, indoor stadiums and beaches to ancient ruins and Old West towns. While the graphics look great, the actual personality of the characters is noticeably subdued compared to the kooky avatars the Hot Shots Golf games consistently deliver. Except for the Indian chief, the 13 remaining characters are fairly generic-looking. Much the same can be said about the audio too, as the music, sound effects and commentary are all run-of-the-mill material.
It is a little disappointing that the personality of the characters is underwhelming compared to the Hot Shots Golf games, and a few more play modes certainly would’ve been welcomed (especially some mini-games). But even with these omissions, Hot Shots Tennis is a remarkably fun and addictive game that should make any PS2 gamer happy with its tight, accessible controls, simple-yet-deep gameplay and colorful graphics, at least for a rental if nothing else. And hopefully this is only the beginning of a Hot Shots Tennis franchise we can look forward to enjoying on the all the PlayStation platforms in the years to come, as I’d love to see Clap Hanz build upon this excellent starting point and really expand it with even more content and Hot Shots attitude.
+ Simple yet surprisingly in-depth and realistic timing-based gameplay
+ Tight, accessible controls
+ Quite a bit of unlockable content to hunt for
– Scant mode lineup; lack of mini-games is especially disappointing
– Doesn’t quite have the same endearing personality as the Hot Shots Golf games