Hot Shots Tennis Hands-On
The Hot Shots series takes on that other country club sport. We've got a first look at this arcade tennis game.
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When it comes to tennis games, two titles have carried the torch over the past few years: Sega's Virtua Tennis and 2K Sports' Top Spin series. But now the Hot Shots series, traditionally known for its golf franchise, is moving to the other side of the country club with Hot Shots Tennis. We recently played the game to get a feel for how it's coming along ahead of its July release, and--no surprises here--it follows the friendly, fast-paced vibe of Hot Shots Golf very closely.
Hot Shots Golf features a straightforward set of gameplay options, including training mode, fun time tennis, and Hot Shots challenge mode. Training mode lets you spend some time getting to know the game's controls in different situations. You can focus on your serves, shots, volleys, and smashes as long as you like. And while there isn't much in the way of actual tutorial in terms of control, you do have specific goals to complete in each training situation. During the serve training, for example, you want to serve the ball so that it lands in specific areas of the court on the other side of the net, indicated by illuminated boxes. Similarly, during the volleying exercise, the idea is to return the ball in a specific area of the court; you earn points for each successful volley or serve, and the smaller the target you're aiming for, the more points you'll earn if you are successful.
Once you've gotten some practice time in, you can head to the fun time tennis mode in the main menu. Here, you can compete in singles or doubles matches with or against any of the characters you've unlocked in the game so far. It's a straightforward way to play, but you can add some offbeat rules to keep things interesting if you like, such as "irregular bounce," which sends the balls off in unexpected directions, or "slow motion," which slows down all movement in the game. You start out the game with just two characters to choose from, as well as just a handful of courts to play on. To unlock new characters, outfits, courts, and even additional sidecourt judges, you'll want to spend most of your time in Hot Shots challenge mode. Here, your job is to beat a series of progressively tougher opponents in order to move up to new levels of challenge. For each opponent you beat, you'll earn a new reward. As you might expect, the further you progress in Hot Shots challenge mode, the stiffer your opposition will become.
If you've spent a lot of time with either Virtua Tennis or Top Spin, you'll have a good idea of how Hot Shot Tennis' controls work without needing to spend too much time in training mode. The left analog stick controls your character movement, as well as the direction of your shot. If you're running to the left side of the court and want to hit a crosscourt shot, you'll need to move the left analog stick to the right just as you press the appropriate shot button. The good news is that your character is quite adept at these extremely angled shots, as long as your timing is correct.
In fact, timing plays a crucial role in Hot Shots Tennis' control system. When serving, for example, there's no power meter to accompany your serve motion; instead, the power and accuracy of your serve is solely dependent on your timing. The same is true of your regular stroke. Though you can hit different types of shots with the X, circle, and triangle buttons (for normal, spin, and lob shots, respectively), your success will largely depend on the timing of your shot. The game provides a handy visual guide to your shot timing in the form of icons that appear over your shot at the point of contact: A rabbit indicates early, a turtle means you took too long, and a musical note means you hit the "sweet spot." It's probably worth mentioning here that, as with the golf games, Hot Shots Tennis wears its Japanese influences on its sleeve, and it's not unusual to see cutesy touches like this all over the game. From the anime-inspired character designs to the colorful environments and lighthearted music, Hot Shots Tennis has a look and feel that is very much its own.
While timing plays an important part in the gameplay, there are some clues on the court that can help you be successful, including an illuminated spot on the court that will give you an idea of where the ball is heading in midvolley. If your opponent hits a lob shot over your head, two color-coded spots will show up: The red one will indicate where you need to be in order to return the ball normally, while a yellow spot will enable you to smash the ball over the net, usually resulting in an easy win.
Both the courts and characters in the game will have different attributes. In the case of the courts, there will be a number of surface types to contend with, including hard, grass, and clay, all of which will affect the ball speed and bounce in different ways. Characters will be graded along general lines (all-around player, net specialist, baseline player, and the like) as well as graded on specific attributes such as serve, stroke, volley, impact, and footwork. Those attributes aren't just lip service--a player with a high footwork rating, such as JJ, one of your early opponents, will scamper across the court quickly, getting to even difficult shots with ease.
Much like its sister golf series, Hot Shots Tennis is turning out to be a light and enjoyable tennis game, one that's big on cute but perhaps not so much on long-term challenge. The game is due for release in mid-July, and we'll have a full review once it hits store shelves.