If you’re familiar with New Star Games, you’ll know it’s the indie stable that brought us the likes of New Star Soccer and Grand Prix. The developer’s latest offering focuses on the world of tennis, and as with the others, the idea is you play a fledgling star who’s trying to carve out a name for himself. New Star Tennis is built around a simple career mode, with none of the multiple juggling of relationships with friends, family and team-mates that had to be done in New Star Soccer.
New Star Tennis’s campaign is built around a year-long season calendar, with three slots per week to be filled with activities. These can be entering a tournament, from minors to grand slams, or playing a range of fun mini-games which can boost your happiness and cash. For example, there’s go-kart racing (which is a bit fiddly), and a darts game (which is way too easy: we managed a perfect nine-dart finish in our fifth game). Betting on horse racing, blackjack and roulette is more fun, and players of New Star’s previous sports titles will be familiar with these mini-games.
Most important, however, is participating in training, because without boosting skills, you stand little chance of winning a tournament. Training consists of a series of graded challenges where you have to serve a ball and hit a target, or perform accurate forehands, backhands and volleys. Beating a target score boosts your stat in the shot you’re training up, which makes you a better player out on the court. It’s a decent skill building system that works reasonably well, although the exercises don’t change much and get repetitive enough to give you tennis elbow after a while.
As well as tennis elbow, New Star Tennis might give you another less common sporting symptom. No, not tennis bottom – a condition caused by eating too many strawberries and drinking too much lemon barley water – but an equally obscure ailment; tennis mouth. It’s a problem that often plagued John McEnroe when the umpire called his serves out. And he called the umpire something else.
Because interestingly enough, NST has line judges and umpires who make errors, as in real life. You’ll see that your opponent’s return was just outside the tramlines, and they’ll call it in. On one hand it’s a novel touch of realism, and on the other it’s massively infuriating when it comes to match point. It’ll give you some empathy with McEnroe, mind, as you turn the air electric blue with a garbled series of semi-coherent rants about parentage or going forth and multiplying.
In overall terms, however, realism isn’t at the fore of New Star Tennis’s priorities. It’s an arcade game at heart, with simple graphics and an equally simple control scheme. While the visuals are just about passable, the animations are rather crude, with a feel of the players sliding around the court rather than running.
Control-wise there’s just one main shot button, and two further buttons for lob and slice strokes. Optionally, left or right spin can be imparted as you play a shot, but you don’t have to worry about that if you don’t want to. So New Star Tennis should be dead easy to play from the get-go, right? Wrong. Where it gets slightly more convoluted is that when you start to play a stroke, the game switches to an aiming cursor in your opponent’s half of the court. Wherever you place this is where the ball will land.
This system wasn’t very intuitive for us to begin with, as we were concentrating on positioning our player and hitting the ball, with the aiming cursor tending to speed off in whichever direction our player was moving in as we hit the shot. It took a while for us to realise that you’ve actually got to transfer your focus into the opponent’s half of the court as you’re playing a shot, not afterwards. This gives you a little time to direct your aim and properly place your shots, but we found it somewhat disorienting to get the hang of.
It doesn’t help that the game’s physics can be quite suspect at times. Volleys in particular aren’t very satisfactorily implemented, with the ball behaving very strangely on some shots. For example, there were occasions when we managed to hit the ball when it had clearly already gone way past our racket.
Yet New Star Tennis gets enough right with its arcade tennis engine that when you get the knack of the controls, and the idiosyncrasies of the physics, you can get into the flow of a good game. Exercising tactics, out-thinking your opponent by using wide serves, or surprise down-the-line returns, these sort of things work well enough. The overall result is a playable game of Wimbledon’s finest, provided you’re prepared to overlook the occasional glaring shot oddity.
Company: New Star Games