AO Tennis Review – Hit And Miss

I’m a massive tennis fan, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t both excited and a little worried when I saw that the first next-gen tennis game would be developed locally. A lot of people have been craving for a new tennis game over last 3-4 years and Big Ant’s first Tennis offering is definitely a fun experience, but there’s a lot to improve on.

There’s already been a few patches deployed since I first got code late last week and each one has helped tremendously changing everything from difficulty to animations to ball movement. I can’t recall another time where I’ve physically seen a game changing drastically over such a short amount of time.

A lot of the facial details look a little bit weird, and the players clearly over celebrate way too much, but for me, cutscenes are skippable and I still enjoy playing Tennis on the NES (virtual console), so graphics aren’t all that important to me in this kind of a game. The game’s animations can be all over the place and the sound is nowhere near as satisfying as it should be but as far as Tennis games go, the core gameplay is what matters and what is here is more than serviceable and definitely quite fun.Holding down one of the four face buttons will hit you a flat, top-spin, slice or lob shot and timing is key otherwise the ball will almost certainly fly out. For me, it took a little while to get used to the timing (which is registered on a red-green indicator). To my eye, it feels like the game wants you to release the button way too early for my liking, but once you realise this, it’s not too hard to perfect the shot timing. Introduced in one of the patches, an indicator shows at the other side of the net to show you where your shot it going to go, which definitely adds a bit more control. 

Much like the Top Spin series, you can also use the analogue sticks to perform more advanced shots, but they seem incredibly random (in power and positioning) and have nowhere near the finesse that they should, so I’d definitely recommend using the face buttons, so you at least know what kind of shot you’re hitting.

Hitting shots in AO Tennis is really satisfying, especially in the harder difficulties. The game does a really good job at portraying the speed and finesse of tennis and everything from serving, down to the groundstrokes feels a lot better than most tennis games out there.

Unfortunately, whilst the game is fun, it’s the rest of the package that lets the game down. The Australian Open mode had a massive opportunity to celebrate the game’s name but for me it’s really not good at all. The game will randomly pick a seven round Australian Open draw (although 98% of the names on the draw won’t be recognisable due to current roster issues). However, you don’t actually pick a player before starting the mode, so there’s absolutely no tension or pressure to pull off a win. Instead, you just choose whether you want to play a match or simulate it as you go through the draw. Lose a match? No worries, you can just play as someone else. When you do finally win the tournament you’re just booted back to the start screen with not even a minor celebration.

Further to this, there’s absolutely no tournament mode to speak of. Every tennis match is different, so even if I master the hardest difficultly level, I’ll still go back and play through a ‘King of the Hill’ style tournament mode across different surfaces and using different players, but there’s literally none of that here.

The career mode is also a massive letdown. You get to choose either a professional player or create your own (through the decent player creator). You’ll then get to distribute a bunch of attributes or skills based on how you want to create your player, but unfortunately it’s all down hill from there.

You’ll get to play through a bunch of minor tournaments and grand slams with the goal of getting to number one, but almost every single tournament no matter where they take place take place on an Australian Open court, which seems utterly bizarre. There’s also nothing to break up the matches (in terms of training or managing your player’s career) and every single match is a six game, best of three set so it’ll take a number of hours to complete a tournament which ultimately feels tedious.

There’s a bunch of bugs still in the game at the time of writing (thankfully none which impact the gameplay too much). These include certain game stipulations defaulting the a standard best of 3 set and challenges skyrocketing up to 250. Balls will also fly off your racket at certain times (despite your timing being perfect) although this does happen in tennis regularly so I’m not sure if it was intentional.

I’ve had a lot of fun with AO Tennis over the last week and definitely plan on continuing to go back. The core mechanics are promising, gameplay is extremely fun but definitely still a little rusty at this point. If you’ve played the Top Spin or Virtua Tennis franchises, you’ll be disappointed with the features on display, but these are things that can be added over time. I have high hopes for what this game could be with a little more time and I sincerely hope that Big Ant continue to add and improve. 
Core Gameplay Is Fun
Rod Laver Is Spot On
Still Plenty Of Bugs
Career Mode Is Basic
Needs A Good Tournament Mode
Roster Won't Please Everyone