After Sonic's recent lackluster performance in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, you'd be forgiven for having low expectations for Sega's next sports game to feature mascots: Sega Superstars Tennis. The characters aren't all A-listers and the tennis isn't great, but the game's interesting court designs, minigames, and classic Sega tunes make for a decent package.
Sega Superstars Tennis features 16 characters from classic Sega games. Each player is rated for speed, control, power, spin, or all-around ability. The eight characters that are unlocked from the start include: Sonic, AiAi from Super Monkey Ball, Nights, Ulala from Space Channel Five, Beat from Jet Set Radio, Amigo from Samba de Amigo, Tails, and Dr. Eggman. The unlockable characters aren't quite as interesting and mostly consist of lesser characters from the same games, though Gillius from Golden Axe and Alex Kidd are worthy additions to the lineup. The courts on which you play and the music you hear while you play are inspired by the game's characters and are sure to please anyone who has enjoyed Sega's games over the years.
The characters, levels, music, and even some of the gameplay from these classic franchises are put to good use in game mode. This mode is made up of 10 different areas, each of which is based on a well-known Sega game. The roster includes Super Monkey Ball, Puyo Pop Fever, Samba De Amigo, Sonic the Hedgehog, Nights, Space Channel Five, ChuChu Rocket, and more. Each is filled with ten minigames that mix tennis with gameplay from the franchise on which the area is based.
Many of these missions are really fun, and some of them are especially creative. In the Virtua Squad minigames, you shoot (aim the ball at) the bad-guy targets that pop up while trying to avoid hitting the civilians, just as you would in Virtua Cop. In Puyo Pop Fever, you're essentially playing the actual puzzle game and clearing the Puyo with tennis balls. ChuChu Rocket is also a lot of fun. Just as you did in the Dreamcast game, you have to lead the mice to their rockets by changing the direction of the arrows on the level and avoiding cats--only this time you change the arrows by hitting them with tennis balls. It's amazing how well some of these games mesh with tennis, and the ones that are done well are really a lot of fun. The only knock against these stages is that the game doesn't do much in the way of explaining the gameplay, so if you've never played ChuChu Rocket before, you're going to be clueless as to how to proceed here. All of the missions in game mode are not created equal. The Jet Set Radio stage has the look of the game, but the tagging minigames are frustrating and uninteresting. Running around the court while collecting rings in Sonic's stage isn't too exciting, either. But even with these issues, game mode is an entertaining and enjoyable way to play tennis.
It's a good thing that game mode is fun, given that the actual tennis in Sega Superstars Tennis is merely average. You'll have to play singles and doubles, however, if you want to unlock any of the hidden characters. The simple controls mean that it's easy to pick up and play, but you'll have mastered the gameplay in a matter of minutes. The controls are tight, but lobs, drop shots, and net play are ineffective, which means that you'll spend your time hitting from the baseline, trying to run your opponent back and forth from left to right until he or she can't get to a shot. Each character has a superstar ability that can be activated once the star below the character begins to flash, but these abilities aren't much help and serve only to interrupt play. There is a distinct difference between the different play styles of the characters, which makes for some variety in how you attack each opponent, but don't expect too much challenge from the artificial intelligence. It's generally fairly easy.
You can play a Sonic versus Sonic match via game sharing, but each player must have their own cartridge to play with any different character, on a different court, or for doubles play. Sega Superstars Tennis gameplay is fun, but it's so simple that you probably won't want to play multiplayer, given that the points can go on forever. However, if you do play against a friend, you'll find that local multiplayer runs well.
You won't be amazed by Sega Superstars Tennis' visuals, but it's a decent-looking game that makes good use of its source material. The courts and their surroundings resemble the games on which they were based; they've been scaled back so much for the DS that they lack personality and don't quite do the original game justice. The characters aren't particularly detailed, but they're easily recognizable and are nicely animated. Sonic will spin to get to hard-to-reach shots, Beat will skate around the court, and Nights hovers just above the court while gliding to and fro. It's too bad that the game doesn't make better use of the DS's dual screens. The bottom screen is only used to display scores while the action is relegated to the top screen. This means that the players are tiny and the lack of detail sometimes makes it difficult to see the ball. Unlike the console versions, which had four songs for each court in the game, the DS version only has one. This is a bit of a letdown because so many of the games featured here had great music.
If you're in the mood to play traditional tennis, then you'll want to look elsewhere. But if you want a lighthearted tennis game, enjoy minigames, and have a special place in your heart for the glory days of Sega, then you'll probably find something to like in Sega Superstars Tennis.