Exciting tennis simulation with authentic 'feel'
There are already two tennis games for the 64 for this superb new Activision title to compete with: The extremely difficult Wimbledon 64 and, more significantly, the excellent Matchpoint from Psion.
Screen presentation in the new release is quite different to Matchpoint. The men are a lot larger and chunkier and the court isn't constantly in view, so it scrolls slightly if a ball goes near the edge of the playing area.
Gone are the crowds (although they can be heard) along with the ballboys, umpire and tough judges. This doesn't really detract from the game, but it gives it a rather lonelier feel.
Activision's tennis also has a different approach to the play: priority is on the different type of ball to play, rather than running about after it. The computer will automatically move your player toward the ball - you simply decide which sort of shot to play and when to play it.
The disadvantage of this is that you have little control over whether to stay at the back of the court or move to the net. The advantage is that you can get a lot more variety in the type of shots you play.
In normal play the different joystick directions and the fire button give you five main options, which are: flat shot, topspin, lob, slice, and drop shot. This gives plenty of scope for tactics. For example, if you are standing at the net with your opponent back, a drop shot will probably be a winning play. But if you play one from your own back court, chances are it won't clear the net.
If your opponent lobs you, you automatically enter 'smash mode', and use the joystick to direct the shot in one of five directions. The smash into the corner leaving the computer player stranded, is one of the game's most satisfying moments. It looks very authentic too.
Similar control is used to serve. Your man will automatically throw the ball into the air and it is up to you to time his racquet to hit the ball correctly, in one of three directions. Pressing fire will give you greater speed, but makes it harder to time the hit.
There are three types of surfaces to play on: clay, grass or a hard court; grass being fast and clay slow. There are also four men to choose from, called John, Jimmy, Ivan and Bjorn. Who could they be? They all have different styles of play which are suited to different courts and matches.
You have a one or two player option and can play either a one set warm-up, or best of three or five sets. The computer opponent is very good and has 'floating intelligence': the more you improve, the better he gets.
One minor bad point is that a player always serves from the nearest court to you, and players change ends after every service. This is contrary to the rules of tennis!
Wonderfully easy game to get into, bringing rapid enjoyment and great addictiveness. The lack of movement control may frustrate some players but it lets you have more variety in the type of shots you can play. The smash, in particular, is great. The players' movement is occasionally a bit crude, but this isn't very noticeable because of the flowing manner in which the computer moves you around the court. The size of the sprites and the way the picture scrolls more than make up for this.
This proves to be an easier game to get into than the great Matchpoint, as the computer does all the running, and you only have to time the shot. But although this offers a good deal of scope for varied play, I would prefer to have fuller control over the player. The animation quality of the impressively large, effeminate sprites is marred by occasional puppet-like actions whilst running. Even so, the game has a pleasant atmosphere and a really good feel to it.
Graphically, this game has some excellent touches like the ball increasing in size as it's thrown or hit high, and the McEnroe grimaces the players make after playing a winning (or losing) shot. The players' serves are superbly animated, but they look a little silly walking down the court. Sound is good, with great ball and racquet noises, plus a jingle when you win a game. But the crowd sounds feeble. This is certainly a great tennis game, although overall I think Matchpoint still offers more challenging play.
Timing Your Shots
The key to On-Court Tennis is timing. You have to allow for the significant amount of time it takes for your player to take his back-swing and then play the shot.
When you first play the game, you're likely to miss every ball (and also serve piles of double faults). But once your mind slips into the rhythm of the game, you not only make contact every time, you also start using the timing to direct your shots and make winning plays.
Try this, for example. Serve wide to the left of the left-hand court, drawing your opponent out to the sidelines to make his return. If you're playing on grass, and your player is 'John', he will now almost certainly move to the net for a volley. If you delay the shot for a fraction of a second, the racquet swings late and the ball angles gloriously into the open right court.
Once you've got properly into the swing of things, the timing gives the game a superb authentic feel. Hit a smash too late and it rockets into the net, swing early on the serve and the ball will be long. Get it right and pow, what a shot!
Look out for some electrifying rallies with both players at the net. To avoid being passed, you have to act only a fraction of a second after the computer's played its shot. Just like the real thing.
Clear instructions and four opponents to choose from.
Preceeded by two other tennis games.
Large, but chunky players on scrolling court. Amusing touches.
Automatic player movement helps you get into it. Great tennis feel.
Good racquet and ball noises and a title tune.
As you improve, so does the computer opponent!
Value For Money 80%
Unfortunately £3 more than Matchpoint, but still a terrific simulation.