For fans of golf video games, the words "Hot Shots" conjure up images of goofy, cartoonlike characters playing fast-paced golf on fictional courses in far-off places. The Hot Shots Golf series has been tremendously popular since its debut on the PlayStation, and now, with Hot Shots Tennis, developer Clap Hanz is hoping that the "Hot Shots" style will translate to tennis. It doesn't--at least not very well. The game's controls aren't good, there are limited play modes, and it's just not much fun.
The first thing you'll notice about Hot Shots Tennis is that it's light on game modes. You can play the challenge mode, fun time tennis, or practice in training mode. Unlike other games, such as Virtua Tennis, where the practice minigames are one of the highlights, Hot Shots' training mode is bare-bones. It's you, a ball machine, and an empty court; you simply try to hit the ball onto certain areas of the court. Fun time tennis certainly sounds like it's full of all sorts of wondrous, fun tennis activities, but it's just a clever name for multiplayer. Not online multiplayer--there's none of that--just you and up to three friends on one machine multiplayer.
Challenge mode is where most of the game's, well, challenge lies. You start by picking a male or female, and both players are done in typical Hot Shots' cartoonlike style. You start at level one and are given a number of matches that you must win before moving up to the next level. There are singles and doubles matches where you'll be playing both male and female characters. Each character also has his or her own unique look, ability ratings, and play style. As you win matches, you'll be rewarded with a handful of new characters, outfits, courts, and even umpires (who are pointless). But unlike Hot Shots Golf, you never get any new equipment, so there's no way to improve a player. This means there's very little strategy involved in choosing a player; you'll just end up using the last one or two characters you've unlocked because they're the best. Though you do earn new outfits, you don't earn individual clothing items and accessories, so there's really very little character customization.
Everything before and after matches is disappointing, so it shouldn't be too surprising that the action during matches isn't all that good either. At least the matches generally don't last too long. You have three different types of serves at your disposal: topspin, slice, and underhand. Yes, underhand...because it's so much fun to play as someone who sucks so bad at tennis he or she has to serve underhand. Once you've rocketed the ball into play with a blazing underhanded serve, you've got topspin, lob, slice, and drop shots at your disposal. These are performed by simply pressing a button and a direction on the analog stick. Timing is supposed to play a key role in the success of your shots. If you hit the ball just right, you'll see a music note appear over your player's head; if you hit it early, you'll see a rabbit; if you swing late, you'll see a turtle. Sometimes it works as intended, but even with the ball's landing zone represented by a large glowing spot, it's tough to figure out exactly when and where it's going to land. This means that rather than hitting the ball off the bounce early, you might be a little closer than you thought and you'll volley the ball late but still get the point.
Then there are the game's other many issues: You can't hit the ball if it hit the net before landing on your side of the court; players routinely get hit with the ball then fall down; all of the stupid sparkle effects make it hard to see the direction in which the ball has been hit; the CPU is brain-dead; playing doubles with the CPU is horrible because it tries to hit every ball; players move fast, but the ball moves slowly; the list goes on and on.
If you've ever seen a Hot Shots Golf game, you know what to expect from Hot Shots Tennis' visuals. With the exception of a few older players, the characters are mostly young boys and girls from locations around the world. None of the designs are particularly interesting. As in the golf games, the characters don't show a whole lot of personality until they do something exceptionally good or bad, in which case they celebrate or pout and yell out some sort of short catchphrase. The tennis courts in the game are located in a variety of locations, such as a city, beach, country club, and more. But unlike the golf games, an exotic locale doesn't mean much for a tennis court--it's just a tennis court in an exotic location.
There are two available camera angles: one high above the court and one that's lower but behind the player. Neither is really ideal; it's tough to figure out the ball's bounce from above, and while you can see how the ball is bouncing from the lower angle, the view makes most everything else difficult. If nothing else, the frame rate is speedy and there's never any slowdown. Hot Shots Tennis' audio might not be the reason why the mute button was invented, but it sounds like it could have been the reason. The music is so bad it defaults to "off," character voices are grating, and the umpires are flat-out obnoxious.
Hot Shots Tennis is a game that you'd play at a kiosk at some electronics store for 10 minutes and then walk away saying to yourself, "That wasn't so good." It's not the worst tennis game out there, but even if the PlayStation 2 isn't exactly a hotbed for tennis these days, there's little reason to pick up this game.