Physical activity is an important part of my life. For my health and wellness, I try to stay both physically and mentally active. And although I workout regularly, competitive sports have become less and less a part of my life.
While I bike obsessively in warm-weather months, you won’t catch me on a basketball court, a baseball diamond, or at a country club. A tennis court? Now, that’s another matter entirely.
Tennis is one of the few competitive sports that I still play regularly. However, it’s also a sport that you can only play eight or nine months out of the year – depending on the weather – when you live in the Midwest. That is, of course, unless you’re lucky enough to have access to an indoor court.
So the idea of a tennis video game is an appealing one, especially during a cold, harsh winter. In reality, though, there are not all that many options to choose from these days.
Actually, now that I think about it, it’s probably been over ten years since I’ve played a tennis video game. The last one was probably the tennis component of Wii Sports, which honestly was a major reason why I wanted to buy a Wii in the first place. Before that, it was Top Spin on the original Xbox and Virtua Tennis on the Dreamcast. Yikes.
Enter AO Tennis 2. Bigben’s latest tennis game was released recently on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. So is it my long-awaited Virtua Tennis replacement? Not exactly.
As far as modes go, you may want to start off with the series of tutorials that get you acquainted with the controls. You’ll learn basic returns: flat shots, slice shots, topspin shots, lobs, and smashes. You’ll also learn how to serve.
To serve, you need to press and hold the desired serve button. Wait until the power meter reaches full and then release in order to maximize the speed of your serve. Using the left analog stick, you can manipulate which direction you want the shot to go.
Unfortunately, the mini-games that accompany the tutorials are pretty lame compared to the unique mini-games in Virtua Tennis. In one, you have to hit balls in ordered numbered squares. Another has you do essentially the same thing with circles. It’s not bad purely as a training exercise. However, it’s also not any fun.
The Career mode is more interesting. It lets you either create your own player or play as a star like Nadal. So if you want to start from scratch, the game lets you do that with plenty of customization options. But if you want to play as a superstar like Serena Williams or Roger Federer, you’re out of luck. Novak Djokovic isn’t available either.
There is a sneaky workaround to this. The customization options allow you to name your character, choose his or her nationality, and modify their appearance. The tool basically lets you create your own version of Federer or Djokovic. And the game conveniently stores their surnames as well.
It’s almost as if they anticipated people would want to play as their favorite tennis players. The downside is that although you can tweak options until you have something resembling Federer, you are forced to play against the game’s limited roster of stars.
As far as actual gameplay goes, AO Tennis 2 is solid. It falls more along the lines of a simulation than an arcade-style game. There are no fireballs or cartoon characters running around the court. And that’s totally fine with me since my goal is to ease my winter blues from a lack of real-life tennis.
My biggest complaint with the game isn’t actually with the gameplay. It’s with the graphics. Simply put, these graphics are ugly and dated. The player models almost look like plastic. Worse yet are the animations. Rather than being smooth, they are instead quite jarring. It takes you out of your zone.
By the way, I want to mention one more thing: the customization extends beyond character creation and into things like match length. Being able to choose how many games are in a set, how many sets are in a match, and how many points are in a tie-break is an under-appreciated but very welcome option. It’s the difference between an exhausting hour plus match and a more bearable half-hour to forty-five minute competition.
Truth be told, AO Tennis 2 is not the best tennis game that I have ever played. It is, however, a solid attempt at a simulation-style sports game. Its flaws are noteworthy: a roster that lacks major superstars like Serena Williams and Roger Federer, outdated graphics, and a lack of fun mini-games. On balance, though, the good outweighs the bad thanks to a plethora of customization options and gameplay mechanics that hit the mark.
Game Freaks 365 received a free review copy.