This is the tennis game you’ve been waiting for.
Or maybe you haven’t. The truth is, there’s been such an absence of worthwhile games related to this particular sport that demand may have just about dried up by now. There are plenty of tennis fans around the world, but game developers have struggled so mightily to produce anything of note on any platform that even hardcore fans of the sport may have given up hope by now.
The greatest potential in tennis gaming in the past decade or so probably came with the advent of Nintendo’s Wii Sports concept, which allowed players to control their “Mii” characters with motion sensing actions that mimicked a few popular sports. Tennis was an option, but once you discovered you could merely sit still flicking your wrist to get the same effect provided by a more dramatic motion, the motion sensor aspect sort of lost its charm. And at that point you were able to focus on the clunky movements and unsatisfying game progression within Wii Sports. The same controls were used in an attempt to prop up a few other tennis games, but the results were always similar.
Forgetting about motion controls for a moment, the latest major effort to put forth a major tennis game came from EA’s Canada studio, in the form of Grand Slam Tennis 2. Developed in 2012 for PS3 and Xbox 360, the game actually is compatible with motion sensing devices. But unlike with Wii Sports, motion sensing wasn’t the entire point. Instead, Grand Slam Tennis 2 focused on delivering a realistic tennis experience complete with various elements that would be appealing to real fans of the sport. 25 real players made the cut, along with the four major championships of the pro tennis tour. But while those seem like positives, they also illustrate the problem: tennis games have simply never delivered satisfying collections of players and tournaments. 25 is a pretty small number in the grand scheme of men’s and women’s tennis.
For those looking for something simpler, there’s even been a fairly popular tennis game featured at online casinos for some time now. Developed by Playtech, this game is simply called Tennis Stars, and it’s a different sort of experience. A free demo at Betfair’s casino site reveals that this game largely ignores professional tennis or match play, instead simply including symbols like tennis shoes, ball cans, and cartoon players on a slot reel. There is also a chance to play a pretty fun mini-game of actual tennis against the CPU, but for the most part this is meant as a slot reel that might appeal to tennis fans.
All of that about does it for the state of modern tennis gaming. Or at least it did until the beginning of March, when Uprising Games Ltd. released Tennis Champs Returns to mobile app stores.
The thing about the previous examples of modern tennis games is that each of them tried to excel in one or two areas and in doing so failed to create a total game. Wii tennis games brought motion sensors into the picture but just didn’t provide enough interesting gaming options; Grand Slam Tennis 2 created satisfying gameplay but fell short on professional content; and Tennis Stars is more of a different gaming experience enhanced for tennis fans.
By contrast, Tennis Champs Returns accepts the natural limitations of a tennis game: repetition, limited gameplay options, and licensing issues that make the inclusion of pro players and real tournaments tricky. This game embraces simplicity with the result that it looks more like an old arcade game than a modern mobile experience. The visuals are pixel-heavy, the player customization is crude, and the controls are as minimalistic as possible. And yet, the total product works like a charm. With this game you aren’t worried about the precision of the controls, and you’re not concerned about 3D visuals or realistic graphics; by understanding and accepting its own limitations, Tennis Champs Returns avoids the shortcomings of other tennis games and allows players to focus on just playing.
The real stroke of genius here is the developers’ decision to create fake tournaments that mirror the actual professional tennis calendar almost exactly. So for instance, you won’t be playing Wimbledon, but you’ll be playing the “London Championships” – a two week, grass court event in the middle of the year. For tennis fans, the slate of tournaments is easily recognizable and very satisfying.
As for gameplay, the matches are fun, your CPU opponents vary greatly in image and style of play, and the player progression is gradual enough that you can play for a very long time without things growing tiresome.
It might not let you customize yourself to take on Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, or let you embody Roger Federer to take to the grass at Wimbledon, but this is an absolute triumph of a tennis game.
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