I’m a pretty big fan of the Hot Shots Golf games. I’ve never played the original tennis game Clap Hanz made, but with the pedigree of their previous efforts, I was looking forward to giving Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip a try. While the game is certainly fun, it lacks the addictive nature of its console counterparts. Hot Shots Tennis also lacks a consistent challenge, doesn’t promote using new characters very well, and doesn’t have nearly as much charm despite incorporating an actual story. It’s not a terrible game by any means, but it’s also not a great one.
For the first time in the series there’s actually a story mode in the single-player campaign. Instead of just playing opponents over and over again in an effort to unlock them, you are now the emissary of tennis. You’ll travel the globe to various locales like a rich girl’s mansion, a television studio, among others, in an effort to restore their love for the game. Before you get to play these boss characters, you’ll have to play against a random assortment of people populating the locations like maids or other actors. Once you do face off against the main characters, your victory will persuade them to join your cause, and they’ll then help you spread the message of tennis around the world. The story is a bit simple, and while I was by no means expecting an award winning narrative, the message is a bit heavy-handed at times. It does provide a good excuse to play tennis against a wide variety of players, so it certainly gets the job done. I just wish the story had been more focused on you, though I guess that would have been difficult considering no one character is ever the star.
When it gets right down to it, the only reason you’re playing a tennis video game is to play tennis. Fortunately, Hot Shots does a nice job translating the real game into its own arcade style. When you first start your solo career, you have two types of shots available (standard and slice), and need to level up your character to unlock the lob, which is a bit annoying, particularly since you have to unlock it for every character if you want them to be able to use it. Considering the only way to earn upgrades is by playing with the same character over and over again, you’ll find yourself replaying the same opponents repeatedly just to build your roster up. Other stats upgrade for all characters at once, so it’s a bit odd that you’d have to unlock such a crucial component of the game individually. Outside of that issue, the light, and I do mean light, RPG elements the game makes use of are fairly standard for a game in the Hot Shots series. The more you play, the more extras you’ll unlock, and the better your overall rank will be. Taking on the random NPCs in the world will often open up new costume components and racquets, though you can also find your fair share of items hidden in chests, boxes, and vases around the game world.
When playing against the computer, the intelligence is occasionally a little off, especially when playing doubles. During singles matches, the computer opponent is pretty balanced. You’re going to lose your fair share of games, but you won’t ever feel cheated. Even if you do lose, the rematches tend to favor the user rather heavily, so progress should never be stalled on any one given match. Playing with a computer partner on the other hand is a completely different story. Most of the time, you’ll be able to handle the slack of your AI teammate during a doubles match, but there will come a time when he will play absolutely horribly, and cost you the game. However, just as it is in singles games, the rematch will almost always end in your favor. You’ll also be graded on your performance during a game, and you’ll earn points for service aces, not letting your opponent score, breaking serve, hard shots, and more. You can lose points just as easily as you earn them, so playing to the best of your ability will benefit you in the long run. As you progress deeper into the game, not only will your opponents become tougher, but the courts themselves will also have obstacles like TV cameras and banana peels trying to impede your shot. The change provides a modicum of challenge and annoyance, but never becomes too frustrating.
If you’re familiar at all with the Hot Shots franchise, the series’ hallmark exaggerated characters return, as do the wacky costumes so prevalent in the PSP titles. The game looks almost exactly as good as Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2 did, and though there isn’t technically as much variation on a tennis court as there is on a golf course, the places you’ll go do have a distinctly different feel from one another. Strangely, since the game uses a top-down 3/4 view, it can be tough to judge whether or not shots will make it over the net at first. Once you’ve played the game for a bit, it’s not that big of an issue, so don’t get too irked by the camera. There’s no voice work to speak of, and the music in the game is of fairly standard, forgettable, and generic background type that so often finds its way into sports titles. Like so many other aspects of this title, there’s nothing exceptional about the presentation, but there’s also nothing wrong with it either.
Though there’s definitely a decent amount of fun to be had playing Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip, for some reason it just isn’t anywhere as fun to play as any of the Hot Shots Golf titles. There’s a modicum of multiplayer (Ad Hoc only), but this game is largely a single player experience. The implementation of a story to try and spice up the game’s derivativeness doesn’t really work, but the gameplay is solid. If tennis is your thing, you might get a bit more mileage out of this game than the casual fan, but even then this is hardly a must own title. Hopefully Clap Hanz won’t give up on the franchise, as there is definitely room to grow. As it stands, Hot Shots Tennis is like the Andy Roddick of tennis video games: good, but not a title winner.