Review: Sega Superstars Tennis (Nintendo Wii)

Sega Superstars Tennis
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sumo Digital
Genre: Sports
Release Date: 3/19/2008

I’ve always been a fan of Sega Sports games. They’ve always been superior to whatever EA puts out. In fact, Sega’s last foray into an NFL licensed game was superior to Madden in every way and less than half the cost. EA saw the writing on the wall and then in a total dick and desperation move, pulled off NFL exclusivity, thus ruining video game football for pretty much ever.

Thankfully we still have Sega for other sports. My personal favorite by Sega has always been their Tennis games, specifically Virtua Tennis. So when Sega announced a new tennis game featuring classic characters from across all of Sega’s franchises, I was pumped. I adore the tennis game in Wii Sports and the thought of having a fully fleshed out tennis game made me really excited.

My only concern was if the game was going to be cartoony. I loathe the Mario Baseball/Tennis/insert whatever sports spinoffs. They’re generally too cheesy and not realistic enough for me. Sega characters though? Well, Sega in its pre-Sammy days was my favorite video game company ever. I loved the idea of a Sega all-stars game where I could see some of my favorite characters go head to head. Sure it wouldn’t be like Super Smash Bros, but this had the potential to reintroduce a ton of long ignored characters and also be a quality tennis game. I just wasn’t sure how I’d react if I say say, Vectorman being able to reach across the screen or Xavier from Eternal Chapions using his magic staff as a racket.

Thankfully I didn’t have to see either. Now, let’s take a look at the game.

Let’s Review

1. Modes

On one hand, Sega Superstars Tennis is a pretty no frills and shallow game, offering you only only three modes and 16 characters. On the other hand, one of those modes is pretty deep, offering ten hours of various levels and mini games. After playing through every option available to me, the game just doesn’t doesn’t have enough quality or substance to warrant its fifty dollar price tag. Let’s look at the options and you’ll see what I mean.

First up is the actual playing of Tennis, which sadly is the least detailed mode of the game and at times feels like an afterthought. You can play a singles match, a doubles match, or a single elimination tournament in either format. You can pick from a limited array of courts, each with their own Sega based theme, but that’s about it for options.

The other 90-95% of the game are “tennis-themed” mini-games that in truth have little to nothing to do with tennis. The first set is a series of arcade style themed games where your only goal is to get a high score. Some of these are quite fun such as “Tennis of the Dead” where you hit tennis balls at zombies inside the Curien Mansion and the Space Harrier themed game, but for every good game there is an awful one like the Sonic or Super Monkey Ball themed games. These games can be unlocked in the all encompassing “Superstars Mode.”

Superstars Mode is a great idea in theory, but in practice it is far too long, poorly designed and ultimately boring. I loved the idea of going to play tennis matches and tennis themed mini games in various Sega themed stages. I loved seeing Outrun and Afterburner make a reappearance on console gaming after far too long. Even Chu Chu Rocket and Golden Axe were excellent ideas. The problem is most of the games in these areas involved a single tennis match to unlock a stage or character. Why even offer a “Golden Axe” world, is all it is is a singles tournament that takes place in a Sonic the Hedgehog court and only offers Gillus Thunderhead at the end? There’s nothing Golden Axe About it save for an unlockable character.

On the flip side, where the game actually provides you with an entire game themed world, it goes on far too long. I loved the House of the Dead theme world, but did I really need to play a dozen mini games all based on the concept of hitting tennis balls at zombies. What could have been a great one trick pony instead involved beating the poor horse to death. The levels went from fun to “Holy crap, is this ever going to end?” quickly. The game even managed to ruin Space Harrier for me by making go on for far too long. Space Harrier is not something that should be able to be tarnished, but Sumo Digital managed it.

Part of the problem is that each “world” is linear. You can pick and choose events like in most games of this fashion. Instead you have to do them in an exact order, with no rhyme or reason to difficulty. This means you can spend forever stuck on a nigh impossible mission due to unresponsive controls and then when you finally DO pass it, the next mission is crazy easy. This just adds to the frustration and total lack of balance this game has.

Even worse, the missions are generally nonsensical or the rules stated don’t make much sense. In the Virtua Cop world (which I loved SD for bringing back!) there was a mission saying “Get five justice shots!” Yet the game doesn’t tell you what exactly a “Justice Shot” is. I had to figure it out by trial and error. It’s shooting the opponent directly in the weapon BTW. Another issue was in the Space Harrier world. Two different missions said, “Survive without using a serve.” Yet in both missions I did just that and ended up scoring a AAA, which is the highest score you can get in the game. Insane. Either poor quality control or there was a bug in the game that was never fixed. Either way, it reeks of sloppy.

In all, Superstar mode is a wonderful idea and I applaud the choices of world to represent from Sega’s past, but like a lot of Sega’s games these days, the end result managed to be a sub-par effort filled with more flaws than positives. It’s nice to have a ten hour mini game set that offers you a hundred different stages, but Sumo Digital seems to miss the entire point of event matches for “All Star Mascot Games,” which leaves the game underwhelmed.

The actual tennis playing is nice and I like the background stages for each, but it’s obvious the actual tennis matches were just a drop in the bucket compared to what SD actually wanted to make. They should have just done that game and left the Sega Tennis game to a different developer.

Modes Rating: Mediocre

2. Graphics

I was very disappointed with the graphics of the game. There’s a definite lack of detail to a lot of the stages and background design. Character design fails to impress me at time, and some characters, like Amy the Hedgehog have severe jaggies at time. Some characters do look quite nice, like Ulala (my favorite character to play as), or te gang from Jet Set Radio. At the same time, they look exactly like they did back on the Dreamcast, showing how little was put into the appearance of this game. A lot of characters just look awful. This is the worst I’ve seen the Super Monkey Ball monkeys look and poor Alex Kidd is just a visual abomination. I realize they were trying to go with a classic Sega Master System, but they failed on every possible level with it.

Sega Superstars Tennis is just average fare visually, and like the modes options, I am shocked that this product was given a full $49.99 MSRP instead of being listed as a budget title.

Graphics Rating: Mediocre

3. Sound

Another merely mediocre category for the game. Most of the sound and voice acting in this game is annoying at best. It was nice to see some classic Sonic tracks, but it seems like they picked the worst possible music from each franchise to showcase in this game. I can’t believe I’m saying this but the selections for Jet Set Radio? AWFUL. There’s very little quality music in the game save for a Space Harrier track or two, and the Space Channel 5 music.

Voice acting doesn’t fare much better. Sadly they included the awful actors from the Nights Sequel released late last year. Nights was a lot more likeable when he was a mute, and god knows I’ve yet to hear anyone who liked the voice acting in that game. So why bring it back? Horrible decision there.

It was nice to see the original Ulala actress back and Lisa Ortiz, my favorite voice actress, provided the vocals for Amy, but that was two shining moments in an otherwise poorly collected cast of motely voices and horrible acting.

If you’re up for a poor music selection and the same few pieces of voice acting being given repeatedly and without any real talent, this is your game.

Sound Rating: Poor

4. Control and Gameplay

You have three control schemes here on the Wii version of the game, all of which have their flaws. The first is the “Classic” controls where you have to hold the wiimote like an NES controller. This is by far the worst mode for the game and sadly, it is forced on you for the majority of Superstar Mode. The controls are unresponsive it often guages where you are aiming as well as the strength of your hits in correctly. This mode will end up frustrating you repeatedly in certain Superstar stages because it’s so poorly done and you have no choice to use it.

The second option is a Wiimote and numchuk combo. The instruction booklet strongly recommends you use this mode, but it too has issues. Here you use the wiimote much as you would in the tennis version of Wi Sports but then also use the numchuk control stick for moving. This is a pretty stupid control scheme and as you will discover there is some lag issues with this configuration such as not being able to move and swing the racket at the same time or your character will sometimes not move at all even when you crank the numchuk. I’m amazed this is the mode they recommended as it completely takes you out of the game.

The final mode is wiimote only and it is easily the best control format of the game. Here you play exactly like Wii Sports but with a few more options like lobbing the ball or making a drop shot. For the most part the controls here are excellent, reliable and constantly solid. The only problem I’ve found is that with this control scheme it’s very hard to properly “smash” the ball. This is when a larger yellow bit shows up on your screen, letting you know you can do a power smash. 90% of the time, your character will flub with the wiimote, but not with the other control schemes. This is mainly because under this control set, the computer automatically guides your characters’ movements. Still it’s your best option and I will only use the other two set ups when I am being forced to.

One very big positive thing I will say about the controls is that you can turn “Superstar Mode” on and off. When this is on, your character has a power bar that slowly builds. When it is filled you can activate it and for a brief period your character can hit the ball in special ways. Inevitably though, these moves are useless and will never confuse a computer opponent. They are also distracting, even when they are yours and only bring the game down. Turning it off provides a more balanced and enjoyable tennis based experience. This is something else I would only ever use again under duress.

I know I’ve been pretty harsh here but I loved playing actual tennis matches with the wiimote scheme. Sure it’s basically a crazy expensive version of Wii Sports, but I’d rather see Sonic vs Tails than two miis anyday. It’s just too bad the other two control schemes are poorly done. I guess one really good control set and two poor schemes is better than three crappy sets of controls. It’s also nice that Sumo Digital provided all these options. Who knows, maybe someone out there will actually find the sluggish and poorly designed classic controls better for them? At least that option is there just in case.

I’m going to be nice here and say the Wiimote only scheme balances out the hell of the main control set the game forces on you in Planet Superstars and call the Wiimote + numchuk a mediocre bag. Thumbs in the middle all around for controls.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Mediocre

5. Replayability

Although the stages and character selections are sparse, you can find yourself spending a lot of time with Planet Superstars. There’s a lot of worlds and mini games to go through here. Sadly, the lack of control selection and the fact some worlds have little to no content while others have far too much drags this down significantly. The lack of any real AI is another problem. There is no discernible difference between the computer’s playing ability on any of the three difficulty settings, and its flaws are easy to exploit, making the game only real worth playing against another human, but for some reason the Wii version lacks the online play of the 360 and PS3, striking another blow against the game in this category.

Once you’re into the double digits of playing time with Sega Superstars Tennis, you realize that the game is simply an overpriced poorly thought out game that should have just been a mini game collection rather than a tennis game with little to no tennis available to you. Still, it’s a nice piece of fan service, but that’s not going to keep people playing this game or feeling like it was worth fifty dollars at the end of the day.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

6. Balance

Not much to speak of positively here. The computer plays the same way regardless of who it is playing as. The only trouble you’ll ever have are with the All Around characters like Nights, but even then a good use of lobbing and drop shots will make fast work of them. At the time of this review writing, I am 40-0 with the 75% of my wins being AAA’s. And that’s on hard.

Planet Superstars however varies wildly to the point where you have to wonder if the developers just randomly set arbitrary goals and time limits and let it go to market. Half of the content was pure crap that had nothing at all to do with the supposed Tennis theme. The Sonic stages, for example, are basically a platformer where you dodge bombs and spikes while collecting rings. Absolutely no tennis involved. At least with the HotD and Spacee Harrier worlds, you’re actually using the racket as a weapon and the balls are your bullets. This isn’t a gameplay balance issue, but rather highlights that the game cares more about being a mini game collection than a tennis game.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, a lot of the games in Planet Superstars are poorly conceived have odd goals and force you to use the worst controls scheme out of the three available to you. This will lead to that whole frustration about using a control scheme you don’t like as well as boredom from unlocking yet another mission in a world you’re well past bored with.

Balance Rating: Poor

7. Originality

Sega Superstars Tennis is a combination of fan service, Super Smash Bros style all star gaming and the crap that is Mario Tennis. Sadly, Sumo Digital has taken all the worst things from each game instead of the best. All of these game have done better in terms of larger rosters, more court designs, or a stronger engine. This game really should have tried to be “Virtua Tennis with Sega characters” rather than a second rate version of that engine that pales in comparison to Nintendo’s flagship character playing tennis. You have no idea how much I hate saying a Nintendo franchise did this better (and first) after all the years of Sega being innovative and downright better, but my how times have changed.

I like the return of After Burner or OuRun as much as the next long time Sega fanboy, but its lip service at best here. Even Planet Superstars has taken worn itself out by the time you finish a world. 5-6 stages for each would have been great; a dozen leaves you bored and unable to appreciate the creativity because you’ve had it rammed down your throat too much.

There’s not much in the way of innovation here. Just a lot of rehashed ideas and some poor controls. The fan service is great, but the game never fails to be something more than a shallow and hollow reminder of what Sega WAS rather than what it IS.

Originality Rating: Poor

8. Addictiveness

Even thought he game is heavily flawed, the long time Sega fan in me got a lot of use out of the game. Part of it was seeing who would be unlockable and what stage in Planet Superstars would appear next, but most of it is that I just really like the wiimote for tennis gaming. I played tennis a lot as a kid, but in my old age, it’s hard to find anyone I know that plays anymore. I know I played for three hours STRAIGHT my first day with this game. By the end of it, my arm was sore but I was quite happy. The next day I played for three more hours but had started to really notice the AI and mini game flaws. By the third day I could list a negative for every positive about the game, and sometimes more.

Despite its obvious flaws, Sega Superstars Tennis still manages to be fun and I put a lot more time into this game that a lot of others I’ve recently played. The problem is that the shallow nature of the game is far too apparent and anything you get out of this can be found in the free copy of Wii Sports you received with your Wii. Hell, just make some Sega themed miis and go at it.

You;’ll have a quick intense burst of addiction, but then you’ll just want to put the game down and never pick it up again.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

Here’s the thing about SST. If you’re both a Sega fan AND a tennis fan, you’ll get a few hours of huge enjoyment out of the game. If you’re one but not the other, you’ll have a limited amount of fun with the game. In either case it’s hard to recommend the game to either simply because the game is so shallow yet costs full retail price. I’m sure the developers would say “Oh but there’s over 100 levels in Planet Superstars”. But that’s like saying there are 100 levels of Pac-Man. No. It’s just the same damn thing with the occasional face lift.

It would be nice if Sega could provide quality fan service and a solid deeply layered game to their audience, but it seems that these days they can only give one or the other.

Even as a huge Sega fan, I can’t imagine anyone but the most hardcore of Sega fans having more than a brief enjoyment with this game. There are better products from every aspect easily available out there.

Appeal Factor: Poor

10. Miscellaneous

Sumo Digital gets some points from me for reintroducing a ton of classic Sega games to a younger, more casual audience. I’m sure many are wondering who in the hell Alex Kidd is anyway. I justwish they would have actual done say, a Miracle World Stage, or if they devoted over a dozen mini games to HotD, they had G or Dr. Curien as playable characters. Considering how little there actually is to the game, these could have all been easily done.

In the end, balance is the big issue with the game. In stead of being a true “Sega Superstars tennis” game, the end product is a bare bones “Sonic and some non Sonic related friends play tennis and some heavily rehashed mini games with mostly crappy controls.”

There was a lot of potential here, and underneath the horrible controls and poorly thought out mini games, there’s a real chance for a Sega Superstars franchise to be built. It’s just too bad the first game in the series (Eye toy related) failed miserably, and that this one is simply an afterthought and overpriced title. In the end, someone will get it right. For now though, Sega is 0-2 with trying to create an “All-Star” title

Miscellaneous Rating: Poor

The Scores
Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Poor
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Poor
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Poor
FINAL SCORE: (Below Average)

Short Attention Span Summary

Bottom Line – this game isn’t worth fifty bucks. Wait until it hits the 19.99 price tag and then Sega Superstars tennis will be appropriately priced. There’s nothing this game doesn’t offer than Wii Sport‘s version of tennis doesn’t have save for Planet Superstars, and that’s such a mess it actually takes away from the enjoyment rather then providing any. Wait for the next Virtua Tennis if you want a quality Sega tennis game. If you want a quality game featuring Sega’s mascots on a single discs? Well, you’re shit out of luck for now.

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