Many people tend to oversimplify tennis games: "What's the big deal?" they say, "You just have to hit the ball back and forth. That's Pong." True. A lot of tennis games in the past did seem like little more than Super Turbo Pong Extreme and didn't resemble real tennis very much. But Game, Net, & Match is different, and it seems like it was designed bysomeone who actually plays and knows the game.
You wouldn't be able to tell by the cheesy box art, though. What out-of-work artist did they get to draw that abomination? It could be that Blue Byte didn't give the developer much of a budget to make this game, because there's no professional tennis players in it either. But all that doesn't matter much, if it's just a good PC tennis game you're looking for.
The game supports 3D cards, which does improve the look somewhat, but not enough to call it cutting-edge. Still, the animations are fluid, and the players look good enough to play. You can play as one of these pre-created characters at any time, each one with different abilities like forehand, backhand, service, volley, speed, and strength, but the real fun is playing a season.
In the season, you first have to create your own character. Choose between a male or female and what he or she will look like. Then, like in an RPG, you have 30 points to distribute among the six player attributes, with a maximum of ten in any one attribute. Obviously, you'll want a well-balanced player, but it's not a bad idea to focus more points on the skills that will help you play a certain style.
If you haven't played many matches, there is a great training area to help you sharpen your skills before you jump into your first season match. The training area places a ball machine at one end of the court. Choose the kind of shot you want to practice against, like lobs or ground strokes, or choose to randomize any one category of shot or any shot at all. You can also practice your own serve, but once you get the timing down, you can consistently hit over 90 percent of your first serves in.
The ease of the serve also points to one problematic omission: difficulty levels. The designer might have thought that there wasn't any need for difficulty levels, since the ability of your opponent gets better as you do, as the season progresses. You can enter a top-tier tournament at any point in your career, but you won't have much of a chance to get past the first round. Instead, you should play in smaller tournaments, gain ranking points, and improve your abilities. That's right. Your ability levels increase the more you play, and where you improve also depends on how you play. In other words, if you hit a lot of forehand winners during matches, you'll see your forehand ability move up a notch. If you don't depend on your backhand much, it won't budge.
And it's that kind of involvement that makes this game so addictive. You have a compelling reason beyond just the thrill of playing tennis to want to keep at it. If you can build your character up, you'll be able to compete with the big boys. At the end of your first season, you'll also get a ranking depending on how many ranking points you earned the previous year.
Game, Net, & Match is not without its share of flaws, however. As was said before, it's too easy to get your first serve in almost every time once you get the timing down (but with few aces), and some of the weaker opponents are too easy to beat. I often use a serve and volley strategy that goes: serve towards the outside, rush the net, hit it to the other side. It seems like you can pull this sequence off repeatedly, only failing when you make a mistake in the timing. But it won't work that easily against a better opponent. It also seems like you can hit shots that appear to be too far out of your reach, which might balance out the fact that computer players can dive and you can't (at least my guy never has).
There's plenty of multiplayer support to give you the opportunity to play against others, even over the Internet on the Blue Byte web site (with its own player rankings). But the single-player game offers enough to please just about any tennis fan, even ones who have a place in their hearts for Pong.