Theres no telling what kinds of games are going to creep out of the woodwork when it appears the attentions of the industry have been diverted elsewhere. When the PSOne was in its latter days, it played host to a number of pleasantly playable budget titles, but inevitably, a few cash-cows sneaked in that reminded us all of why there is still a stigma attached to the concept of bargain bin releases.
In the case of World Tennis Stars, the writing was evidently on the wall. Released as a Gameboy Advance hand-me-down in 2002, the PlayStation version isnt featured on a single major gaming website and the half-page review it was given in the Official UK PlayStation magazine saw it awarded a none-too-inspiring 1/10. So it seemed for WTS, the less exposure the better.
And with good reason World Tennis Stars is a truly awful piece of software. Given that the sport was already well-catered for on the PSOne with Sampras Extreme Tennis offering realism n depth whilst Smash Court Tennis was equipped with fun n flare; its difficult to see what Ignition thought they were bringing to the party with this one. WTS offers nothing new, and hardly any of what it borrows from other titles is done to an even passable standard.
Long-lasting, challenging tennis games have always been a difficult art for developers to tackle because of the limitations of A.I. in many cases, finding a weak spot in your opponents armoury can lead to easy victory for the player who can continue to exploit it. With WTS you have a rather more unique problem to contend with your battle being not so much with the player on the other side of the net, but with your own pad. The challenge becomes finding a way around the numerous, severe control issues and getting the ball back into play anyway you can.
Alarm bells are ringing almost from the outset. Predictably, there are no Murrays or Henins to play as here instead you get to pick from Jim, Su and four other equally-imaginative figures. The pleasant though distinctly low-grade intro theme seems out of place away from its small-speaker birthplace; whilst the garishly simple menus and lack of a save function do little to allay fears either
and nor does the gameplay, which is absolutely abysmal. Chief among the problems are the terminally unresponsive controls on far too many occasions your opponent will get free points simply because your character makes no effort to hit the ball. The lack of pace and general inconsistency also make WTS a very frustrating experience its tricky to engineer points in your favour even when you are able to return the ball as it rarely goes it exactly where you want. You may hit one shot that will fly out past your opponents baseline, whilst the next limps off your racquet, not even reaching the net, thus making basic tennis concepts such as serve n volley and chip n charge something of a distant dream. The computers apparent mastery of impromptu drop shots (or as I like to call them in this case, mishits) makes this more irksome still, as they seemingly use the same animation as all the groundstrokes.
Its GBA heritage means that WTS is limited to the use of two trigger buttons, one of which is a standard groundstroke and the other is, well a slightly higher groundstroke I hesitate to call it a lob as that would imply that it in fact travels far higher than chest-height. This shot is sometimes hard to pick, and if you are anywhere near the net your character will invariably ignore it altogether, as there are no overheads here.
Thus with such a myriad of problems, it inadvertently ends up being one of the most difficult tennis games on the PlayStation its incredibly hard to get into any kind of rhythm or string several points together and your problems are often compounded by the computers penchant for moving right up to the net and blocking everything you manage to hit their way. The three difficulty settings arent worth bothering with as they simply offer different problems rather than greater challenges.
The visuals are probably the games strongest suit, though in truth even they are sub-standard. The courts are at least pleasantly varied, with settings including a Hawaiian beach; a high-tech Tokyo cityscape and suburban-set grass and hard courts, but though they look different, they all play pretty much the same. Characters are extremely poorly defined, their movement isnt very smooth and the two-frame animations are laughable its no exaggeration to say they would have looked bad back in 1995. Also, the ball is a 2D circle masquerading as 3D object with perspective judgements being problematic, such as figuring out exactly where its going to land, and the fact that, when in direct contact, the ball is as tall as the net! It evidently goes for the same cute n colourful angle Smash Court Tennis used so well, but ends up looking like a shoddy 16-bit game taking its first tentative steps in 3D.
You wont find much in the way of sound either. A couple of passable menu tunes are all you get music-wise, meaning the only effects to remind you it isnt mute are some naff crowd cheers, monotonous racquet swishes and an umpire announcing scores in a manner that suggests his mouth was too close to the mic when recording.
For anyone who bothers persevering beyond the initial half hour, youll find that the Tournament is rather lazily just a string of Exhibitions pitting you against the six characters on the six stages. If youve had enough of being bludgeoned by computer-controlled protagonists, there is a two-player mode, so you and an unsuspecting mate can battle the controls and see who gets lucky more often, though ultimately its as pointless as the rest of the game. Even with extended play the rewards just arent there as, regardless of whether youre winning or losing, its just no fun at all.
Next to Anna Kournikovas Smash Court Tennis, World Tennis Stars comes up woefully short in almost every comparative measure humanly divisible. There are not enough players, courts or modes; the graphics, sound and gameplay are all dated, broken, or both and those who value their gaming time will have ceased wasting it on this after one short session. Tennis has never been so badly represented in gaming form, and there has perhaps never been a game on any format that is as comprehensively bad as World Tennis Stars. Avoid like the plague.