• Sega seem to be past masters at providing the ultimate blue sky games. Sonic, Monkeyball, Samba De Amigo, Jet Set Radio – all games played under stunning sun-kissed vistas that seem to lift your mood on a rainy Sunday when you can’t get out of the house for a kick about down at your local park.

    Sega Superstars Tennis takes the well worn videogame tennis format, puts it in a pink pair of Elton John shades, turns on a UV lamp and showers it with drinks with little brollies in ‘em. But is it a case of style over substance or is there actually a game of tennis hidden in there somewhere?

    SEGA Superstars Tennis - 360

    Anyone who’s spent hours with any of Sega’s Virtua Tennis games will know the score here gameplay wise, but because Superstars Tennis is instantly pick-up-and-playable which means it’s absolutely perfect for younger players (sadly my two co-reviewers from the Spiderwick Chronicles review have now gone home and my own daughter is a bit too young to play games yet so you’re stuck with my opinion). Move around court using the left analogue stick, Topspin, slice, lob or play a dropshot with the A, B, X and Y buttons or pull off a sneaky smash when the ball is above you with the A or X buttons. It’s so simple that it means even rabid button mashers should be able to play a successful round with ease.

    Sega’s back-catalogue of videogame icons have all come out to play in this, everyone from sexy Ulala from Space Channel 5, to cheeky Amigo from Samba De Amigo. Needless to say, superstar Sonic the Hedgehog is also in there but don’t let that put you off too much.You get 8 characters to start with, but more can be unlocked when you complete certain challenges in Superstars Mode. More on that later.

    Each character has another string to their racket, the ability to bring a superstar power into play when enough star power has been collected. Triggering these will release a nigh-on unbeatable volley of shots that fit in well with your chosen character’s signature moves from whichever game they’ve been wrestled from. I have to admit that Amigo’s maracas attack is hilarious fun to unleash at an opportune moment.

    Back to my original point about blue sky gaming, the in-game tennis courts are quite something to behold and again pay homage to those classic games of yore. You get the multicoloured eye-melting banana-scapes of Super Monkey Ball, the creeping festering graveyards packed with zombies from House of the Dead, and the slick uber-urban landscapes of Jet Set Radio to play in. Each court really is beautifully designed.

    The best way to see them all early on is to pick “Superstars” mode from the main menu. In this mode, tennis takes a bit of a back seat and you must complete a series of themed challenges tied in with those classic games. Each game world will have a set of minigames which you must complete to unlock various in-game prizes like extra challenges, characters and tennis courts. Challenges can be everything from avoiding rampaging zombies in the House of the Dead world, to smashing down a ball to finish off a graffiti tag in Jet Set Radio world. Each will bring a smile of recognition to any haggard old Sega fan’s face (like mine) and a slight pang of regret that the super whizzy high-def graphical representations of these worlds and their heroes haven’t been used to produce proper remakes of some of these games (don’t even get me started on how cool a multiplayer LIVE Jet Set Radio would be).

    Other game modes allow you to just play a straight-up game of tennis in Match Mode either as a double or single player (two pads vs two AI or Live opponents is brilliant fun), or compete in a Sega Superstars Grand Slam tournament, with a series of games culminating in a final against some of the toughest characters in the game.

    Finally to round the whole package off there is a series of Virtua-tennis-esque minigames, perfect for when you’ve got a houseful of mates who don’t fancy anything too in-depth and just want a quick muck-around. The minigames comprise stuff like stopping an onslaught of the undead at Curien Mansion (from House of the Dead) , or collecting rings and powerups in a Sonic-based level. These are played purely for fun and for score attacks but still round the whole package off quite nicely.

    Ultimately, titles like this (especially on the 360) are relatively few and far between and die hard single-console owners who utterly refuse to have anything to do with that unmentionable waggle-based Nintendo console might at least find solace here when they want something that plays a lot like a slightly more complex version of Wii Sports Tennis, without the waving of the controllers to differentiate it from any other cartoony sports game. Perhaps then you can console yourself with the fact that the Wii version of Superstars Tennis is never going to look as utterly polished and pixel perfect as this 360 version even if the control system might be a little better (in reality, having played the Wii version it’s not all that great and feels a lot less “controllable” than Wii Sports Tennis). But we’re not here to talk about Wii stuff, we’re here to concentrate on the 360 version and it’s a good solid game.

    There are a few minus points which would shave a touch off the scores. Sega really need to ditch that happy crappy music from all their titles even though it’s become a bit of a trademark (at least here you can turn it off unlike quite a few other titles I could mention), and the garishness of some of the graphics won’t suit everyone’s tastes.

    Some of the voice acting of characters you’ve known and loved as mutes in other games can grate a bit, particularly when they repeat the same phrases over and over again whenever they win a point.

    As far as it goes though, this is another game that can be wheeled out when you’ve got a ton of mates round and fancy turning your 360 into a more sociable console. LIVE play is solid too but there’s something much more satisfying about having a bunch of people in the same room to play against and shout at when they thrash you mercilessly.

    For Sega fans though, this is something of a nice little collectable game of tennis that will bring a smile of recognition and reminiscence to your face unless you’ve got a heart of stone. Tennis purists might scoff at the abject cartoonishness of it all, but in reality there’s not really that much difference between the tennis dynamics here or in Virtua Tennis (except Andy Murray wouldn’t be capable of firing off a volley of bananas to defeat an opponent). All in all this is a pleasing little game dusted with a fair amount of addictiveness, and with a bucketload of little quirks and depths to keep you playing for quite some time.

    Score: 7/10

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