It seems his recent athletic clash with Mario has rubbed off on Sonic: here he is with fifteen friends in a brightly coloured, special move-filled variation on good old lawn tennis, not unlike the plumber’s N64, Game Boy Advance and Gamecube outings, on the surface at least. This isn’t a simple formula rip, however: this is pure Sega through and through, from the blue skies to the vibrant Richard Jacques theme, but will it appeal to those whose Sega knowledge starts and ends with a hedgehog?
The Wii version I’m reviewing here wisely adds depth to the tried-and-tested Wii Sports formula most players will be familiar with. With four control methods there’s plenty of scope for complexity and variation of shots, but the most enjoyable is the Remote and Nunchuk setup, which combines swinging and serving with character movement and shot aiming using the Nunchuk’s control stick. After a little time it becomes as accurate and responsive as Wii Sports, with particularly pleasing control over the length of your lobs and drop shots.
The most unique type of shot is accessed through the so-called “Superstar State”, which you activate after gaining enough power through rallies and hitting winning points. Once in Superstar State you can unleash your special move, which usually involves hitting the ball towards your opponent in an unpredictable way. These moves can make all the difference in a tight game, although they’re by no means surefire points winners, requiring good timing to execute properly. They also don’t power up too quickly, which means you might see two or three in a two-set match, keeping the focus on building points through more conventional shots.
To be honest, you’ll spend much less time playing traditional matches because the real beauty of Sega Superstars Tennis is on “Planet Superstars”, probably the most wonderful planet in the world because it’s full of minigames based on famous Sega properties, from Jet Set Radio to Super Monkey Ball and a good many others too. Somewhat curiously, House of the Dead is referred to as “Curien’s Mansion”, and another game goes by a pseudonym as well, which slightly impedes the experience. Most of the minigames are variations on ideas from the Virtua Tennis series, so there’s plenty of bomb-dodging, banana-collecting and all-round un-Wimbledon-like behaviour. Some can become repetitive after time, as you might play several “collect the rings” games on the same court just to progress, but the majority of games work well, and will certainly bring a smile to Sega fans’ faces, which we all know can be difficult. The highlights are the games that replace bullets with balls, although the puzzle-based games are extremely addictive too.
The problem with any game like this, and to a lesser extent Super Smash Bros. Brawl, is that no matter much content you pack in there’s always a popular character or game that’s missing representation. I could list two dozen games I wish had been referenced in SST – Panzer Dragoon, Shenmue, Burning Rangers, Ristar – but you can’t complain when it features so many good Sega characters and games we haven’t seen in too long: Beat, Ulala, NiGHTS. (You can never have too much NiGHTS). What’s key is that the games featured here work in the context of a colourful, family-friendly sports game: this isn’t a hardcore Sega encyclopaedia but an irreverent take on over twenty years of favourites.
With eight characters, half a dozen courts and plenty of music to unlock, there’s plenty to keep you motivated to clear Superstars mode, although for me it’s more about the subject matter itself: Sega’s history is so rich that even though this is a comprehensive celebration, it leaves you desperate for more. With a large advertising campaign and high awareness following Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, Sega Superstars Tennis should do extremely well and pave the way for a whole new series of family games devoted to the joy of Sega.