If you follow me on social media (or have been following Press Start over the years), you’d know that tennis games are my absolute obsession. Virtua Tennis, Mario Tennis, Top Spin – If it’s a game with a racket and a ball, I’m guaranteed to spend 100s of hours with it. That’s why I was so excited (and a little nervous) when I first played the original AO Tennis from Melbourne developer Big Ant. It was a pretty massive let down and it became a fairly solid tennis game after 30 odd updates, but it was too little, too late by that point.
Thankfully, AO Tennis 2 reflects the work that went into improving the game and then some. Straight away, you can tell that the game has a tonne of polish that the original did not. The UI was lacklustre in the original game (and there wasn’t a whole lot in the game either), but it oozes quality this time around. It’s beautiful, easy to navigate, and you quickly realise that there’s a lot of content to play through here and potentially more than in any tennis game that has come before it.
For the most part, the core gameplay is still the same in terms of controls, the ball indicator shows up on court to let you know roughly where the ball is going to land as well as an indicator on how much power you’re going to hit the ball with. Timing is still almost identical and has a pretty steep learning curve. That’s probably a good and a bad thing. The original game was hard to master and so is this. There’s roughly eight difficulty levels all which effect the room for error in terms of timing your shot and how close you push can them to the edge (without it going out). The easiest difficulty makes it pretty much impossible to hit the ball out, which is really necessary as anything above this will be too hard for a lot of players (at least initially).
Whilst the game will frustrate you in the early stages. It certainly did me (and as the reigning PAX Australia Mario Tennis champion I consider my tennis skills to be quite good), but I actually appreciate the way it makes you focus on improving your timing and skill. No points in AO Tennis 2 are a given and you’ve got to work for everything. I definitely think the AI needs a little bit more balancing on the easier difficulties in terms of how many errors it makes and some unbelievable shots that they shouldn’t get back, but I don’t doubt that Big Ant will continue to tinker with this.
There’s still some weirdness in the general gameplay. Your player won’t go for certain shots at times, or a volley will go astray for no apparent reason, but it’s much, much better than it was in the previous game and one can only imagine it’ll get even better with time.
Overall graphics and animation were a major area where the original game struggled and it’s night and day here. The game looks phenomenal on PlayStation 4 and the player’s actually look like they’re playing tennis. The majority of the awkward animations are gone and shots look like they should for the most part. Players even hit tweeners and dive for the ball when appropriate now. On Nintendo Switch, the game definitely looks a little bit worse for wear and drops frames here and there, but I’ve been playing on Switch for the better part of two weeks on an overseas trip and I’m absolutely addicted.
Career mode was a major let down when the game launched and that’s another area that Big Ant has worked on. It’s pretty much at the level of Top Spin now, with the ability to gain sponsors, work your character up with skill points and train your character up in certain areas. There’s even cut scenes, which are fairly redundant, but it’s better than nothing. If you’re not looking to create your own character, you can go through as a star player too, which is fun, but not as rewarding. There’s a brand new system in regular play and career mode that allows you react positively or negatively after winning or losing a point. Things like apologising for a net court or throwing your racket after losing a point.
Another big change to the game is the injury system. Your player can get injured which will lower their stamina and you’ll need to take injury time outs in order to heal them. Alternatively, if you’re playing career mode, you can rest your player in order to avoid this happening. The career mode has a great feature where you can play out your entire season, and the game actually rewards you for this by lowering fatigue if you plan your travel ahead.
Outside of career mode and the general play, there’s tutorials (which are necessary), a Scenarios mode, where you can set stipulations like needing a certain amount of winners or aces to win the match and the Australian Open mode which I actually enjoyed. You’ll essentially pick your player, set your difficulty and try to win the Australian Open.
Virtua Tennis and Top Spin were known for having near complete player rosters, but AO Tennis was definitely not and that’s continued here. Ash Barty and Rafael Nadal take the spotlight, and there’s a handful of other Australian and international players but the likes of Djokovic, Federer and Williams are nowhere to be found. Luckily, Big Ant has included the Academy, which is basically a venue and player creator, so these players have all been created by gamers, and they pretty much look how you’d expect. It’s not quite the same as having them there from the get go, but it’s a great inclusion nonetheless.
Big Ant has done a great job in making sure that you can play the game that you want to play. You’re able to set things like aiming sensitivity, change assistant movement and the ball speed. These don’t make a huge difference, but for hardcore tennis fans, these little changes will make it more suited to how you want to play.
THE NINTENDO SWITCH AND PS4 VERSIONS OF THIS GAME WERE PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODES WERE PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
AO Tennis 2 is a huge improvement on the original game and extremely close to being the perfect package. The lack of star players and unbalanced difficulty levels are the only things that hold it back from rivalling the best tennis games throughout history.