|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
ieMagazine editorialist Pete Gallagher recently reminisced on the wonderful simplicity of Pong, and how today's gamers would consider such a game beneath them.
Yet dress it up right and even Pong can be as fun today as it was back then. That's what Sega's done with Tennis 2K2, for the Dreamcast.
A sequel to Virtua Tennis, Tennis 2K2 builds on the addictive qualities and simple, fast-paced action of the original while adding and changing features. The athlete roster now includes eight women players, for a total of sixteen real-life sportsmen from Cedric Pioline to Serena Williams and Alexandra Stevenson. One to four gamers can pit these athletes in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles tennis matches.
The lone player will likely spend most of his time in World Tour mode, which is an opportunity for players to develop a unique tennis pro all their own, at the cost of playing as an "unknown" and not a real-world star. In Tour, players create in name, body, and skill a pair of athletes to compete in a calendar of events. The tour continues until every annual event on the calendar has been won. Mini-games, which imitate anything from Space Invaders to othello, will increase the players' skills in areas such as serve, volley, and footwork, allowing them to qualify for more advanced matches. Virtua Tennis' mini-games were more fun; in Tennis 2K2, they are played for the necessity of player development, not the luxury of cash prizes — and duly, repeatedly, since both male and female athletes require constant maturation.
Prize money from matches can be spent on outfits, access to additional arenas, and contracts with partners for double matches. These are fine incentives, but nothing as seductive as unlocking additional players, as was offered in Virtua Tennis.
Actual gameplay has changed little. Topspin, slice, and lob shots require quick thought for the ball to be placed where the opponent can't reach it. It's harder to pull off a satisfying smash, and easier to hit the ball out of bounds. The camera has moved a bit closer to the court, making it appear larger but giving players on the far end of the court a disadvantage.
In doubles matches, your partner can be schizophrenic in his confidence. Often a ball will pass through his territory unchallenged; other times, he'll roam the court freely, hogging the ball. These mood swings can cause your partner to be frustratingly unreliable.
Sega missed the ball on this one: Tennis is the only entry in the Sega Sports 2K2 lineup to not feature Internet play. This game is a perfect candidate for online matchups; its absence leaves the sequel short of surpassing its predecessor.
If you take a moment between all the frantic racing and diving about the court, you'll notice some incredibly fluid animation in the character models. Whether they're standing, serving, or stroking, the athletes move as their real-life counterparts would. Between matches, doubles offer their partners congratulations, but skewed collision detection leaves them slapping each other's wrists and elbows as often as hands. Blurred slow motion replays highlight scoring moments, but the action is too blurred to be distinguishable.
The realistic graphics are accompanied by authentic voiceovers. Announcers keep score as the game progresses, declaring the winners when appropriate. Since players are free to name their World Tour custom character as they like, the announcer cannot identify him winning a match or deuce advantage. It's expected, but conspicuous, since the computer players are regularly announced.
Despite missed opportunities, Tennis 2K2 is an addictive game that all players can enjoy. Fans of the original seeking a different, if not altogether better, challenge, and a more complete athlete roster, will find it here.
This article is copyright (c) 2001, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 05-Nov-01