All Star Tennis '99

a game by Ubi Soft, and Smart Dog

Platform: Nintendo 64Nintendo 64

Genre: Sports

Ah, the smell of strawberries and cream? Not to forget high explosives - it's tennis with a difference?

Summertime comes but once a year (if we're lucky) and out of hibernation crawl the international superstars of summer sports. The heady smell of freshly mown grass, the chatter of an expectant audience and a glass of Robinson's Barley Water are all waiting to greet the international tennis stars as they enter the court and dazzle us in this latest tennis sim. We did say summer only comes if we are lucky. Unfortunately, summer has taken a quick detour this year and found itself on a package holiday in Belgium, thus leaving All Star Tennis standing in the rain.

Game...

As the title implies All Star Tennis should be exactly that... All Star. Rubbish! The game features a few little-known tennis players and a hefty lump of fictional ones thrown in to bulk out the numbers. In our book that makes the game in no way 'all star'. The size of player pay packets isn't always what matters though, it's what they can do with their balls that counts. So maybe All Star Tennis would concentrate more on the quality of play rather than the quality of players. Then again...

There are three styles of game you can choose from, and of the three choices, Bomb Tennis is by far the most pant-wetting, but more on that Semtex-soaked option later. For now, the only games available are Arcade and Tournament. You know the drill. Arcade is a one-off game against the CPU or friend and Tournament will see the last man standing as the winner. "Well, what's so different?" we hear you shout. Well, that's it, you see... absolutely nothing. The players are animated smoothly enough despite walking like crabs (yes, they scuttle across the court) and the speed of play is refreshingly fast, but ultimately there isn't enough packed in to make you skip around like a delirious fool.

The screen is somewhat barren in appearance too, lacking power gauges to judge your shots, lacking in a scoreboard or any other form of information that might be of interest.

Set...

The actual playing dynamics also reek of a certain DIY cheapness. The ball and racquet contact is laughable and you get a very floaty feeling to proceedings, as if you are spectating rather than participating in the on-court action. The amount of moves available don't help either and just go to show what a very average job has been made of the game. It all comes down to basic button tapping, with the occasional change in tack to sneak the ball past your opponent. There is nothing remotely satisfying to get your teeth into. Looking on the brighter side of what is quickly becoming a lesson in the average, you can turn on the Special Moves option. Reality now packs its bags and runs away to join the circus.

The special moves opens the game up and turns what was looking like a lost cause into something that could pass for entertainment. Yes, wonderful people, All Star Tennis becomes slightly fun!

Bombs Away?

Without a practice mode, All Star Tennis players can use the Bomb Tennis option as an ideal alternative. Although the concept is really daft, it helps you learn to use the court effectively and when in two-player mode it makes sure you cooperate with your partner or else you'll end up in pieces. So. if you're getting beaten by the CPU. undertake this game and it will improve your skill no end! Maybe that's how they do it in real life!

A power bar now appears on screen and when you manage to pull a few sly ones against your rival it will power up, giving you the chance to pull off a super shot. These travel at tremendous speeds with sparks following them and are very handy if you are a few points down. The action replay will also show every confidence-crushing smash you make with the super shot, so you can gloat to your heart's content. There is also a time vortex that opens up to suck your ball through and spit it vehemently on the other side, again notching up those points if you can successfully pull it off.

Then comes the Bomb Tennis! Everywhere your ball lands it lays a bomb. Avoid the bombs to remain a biped. Stand on the bombs and kiss your Dunlops goodbye. These elements, although appearing to be afterthoughts, add longevity to the game that it was certainly lacking in the standard Arcade and Tournament modes.

And Match...

All Star Tennis hasn't exactly pushed the boat out to become the definitive tennis sim. The mere fact that it has to rely on super shots, time-rips and bombs to stay interesting proves that this cannot be taken too seriously, but they help tremendously in lifting the game out of bargain bucket hell.

They don't quite manage to convince us that All Star Tennis is nothing more than a bad job made good. It is still rough as a hippo's butt, the players are still limited in choice and moves and the ball contact is still as ghastly as being kissed by a hairy-chinned old woman. If you have any other tennis game you won't want this.

2nd rating opinion

I've never been a great fan of tennis games as I prefer the real thing, but All Star Tennis is good fun to play, has a wide range of options and handles very well. The Bomb Tennis mode is excellent and shows that even serious tennis games can have a lighter side!

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All Star Tennis '99 Downloads

Nintendo 64 All Star Tennis '99 download

Grab your racket and step onto the court as one of many professional tennis all-stars such as Michael Chang, Jana Novotna, Gustavo Kuerten, or Conchita Martinez. Play a singles or doubles game with one to four players or match up in tournament mode and prove to the world that you truly are the best! When you've mastered normal tennis, then get ready for a variety of twists that are bound to throw you off.

Gameplay

If you don't know how to play tennis, you'll need to learn before playing this game as it assumes you already know generally how to play. This game is set up quite simply; it gives you the options of "Smash Tennis," Tournament, and "Bomb Tennis." "Smash Tennis" is just a standard game of tennis. Tournament mode will put you against everyone, one at a time in singles matches. Then there's "Bomb Tennis." This is played like a standard singles game except anywhere the ball lands, it places a bomb on the court. If the player (or computer) walks on the bomb or if the ball hits the bomb, it will explode and that player loses the point. I found Bomb Tennis to be kind of strange to play and rather difficult when playing from certain perspectives. I think the idea was to add a unique challenge; if so, they succeeded.

There are nine players total in the game. Eight of them are tennis professionals. The ninth appears to be a fictional person. You can play as or against any one of these people in any of the matches.

The general gameplay is a bit different than any other tennis game I've ever played. When serving, all you need to do is press one of the hit buttons and it will do the rest (as opposed to tossing the ball, then manually hitting it like in most other tennis games). Likewise, there are several different ways of hitting the ball around the court. One nice touch to the controls is that you can put spin on the ball as you hit it. When putting spin on the ball, I did not notice a really big difference regardless of whether I put spin on the ball or not. In most other tennis games, holding the control pad in a direction will tend to hit the ball that way. I found using the control pad to be of little help in the direction that I wanted the ball to go. Controlling the direction of the ball seems to be handled more by a combination of timing when you swing the racquet and the controller direction at time of hit. While this adds a bit of realism to hitting the ball, it's difficult to figure out this timing as the angle of the court changes in real-time.

This real-time camera positioning is a nice effect to watch, but it hinders gameplay as the camera focuses on you and the other player, but not necessarily the ball. Also when I thought I was lined up for the ball, the camera would change position a little and throw me off; I would end up completely missing the ball or it would just hit me. Over time you will learn to get used to this and compensate. Once you've gotten used to the one side, you then have to switch sides. When the players switch sides on the court, the camera stays in the same place meaning half of the games you play, you will be on the far side of the court as seen on the screen. This makes the game twice as hard as you now have to get the hang of the new angles not to mention you and the ball appear smaller. There are also four different screen angles that you can adjust through the game's pause menu, but I found each one to have little difference from the others.

The game has three difficulty levels -- hard, medium, and easy, but would more aptly be named "normal", "slow-witted", and "incredibly stupid", respectively. The difficulty levels don't affect how the players actually play and hit the ball, but more their reaction time to move towards and hit the ball. There are many times on "incredibly stupid," um, that is, easy, when I would hit the ball just out of reach of my opponent, it would fly by, and after bouncing two or three times, the computer would dive for it and obviously miss. Keep in mind, however, that when the ball is hit, they hit it pretty well almost every time regardless of the difficulty level.

If the general gameplay isn't enough of a challenge for you and you've already mastered the game's three difficulty levels, then you may want to turn on the game's special moves. Each player has the same two moves and they are all executed in a Mortal Kombat style where you have to push the controls in a certain order to pull them off. In order to access these, they need to first be turned on in the options menu, you must then build up your power bar in the game. There are eight power segments (or points) to this bar, but the bar is difficult to read as it's set up like a stoplight. Points one through three show up as dots in the middle, four through seven show up as the outside surrounding the first three dots, and eight will flash the whole icon. I found this to be excessively confusing and had to ultimately read the book and play a few times before I figured out how it worked. One special move is an extremely hard smash that sounds like the bionic man moving. The other hits the ball to the net, a warp hole opens and sits there for a few seconds, then the ball randomly shoots out of the other side. While these definitely add a twist to the game, I found them to be difficult to execute, even more difficult to return, and feel this type of feature has no place in a tennis game.

One nice feature of the game is that is doesn't require a controller save pak to save your tournament progress. (amazing that these kinds of games still exist at all anymore!) It saves directly to the game itself. Unfortunately, the rumble pak is not supported at all.

Graphics

Much like the game itself, this is also hit and miss. The players must have had a lot of caffeine as they seem to be very jumpy on the background when standing still or moving slowly. The female players' skirts seem to look more like a cheerleader skirt rather than a tennis skirt and seem to ride pretty high. The actual animation of the players and the background are pretty smooth. The judge looks fine until you get right in front or behind him where you can see he is very two-dimensional, as he becomes totally flat. This is also true with everyone in the audience.

The graphics in general tend to be a bit hazy which can make the ball hard to see. Fortunately, you can change the color of the ball to find the best contrast available. The effects of the special moves are pretty neat. The tennis courts look very nice and are probably the best graphics in the game although the illusion of depth makes them look shorter than they should look. Interestingly enough, the graphics on the back of the box look cleaner and not as blurry as what's actually in the game.

Audio

This is by far the best feature of the game. If you are playing on a certain kind of court (grass, cement, indoor, etc.) the reflected sounds and echoes of the ball are great. The cheers and jeers of the spectators as well as the judge's speech are also handled well. Once in a while you'll hear some spectator yell something and the judge will tell them to quiet down as everyone else laughs -- that was a great touch.

Documentation

Not much there but you will have to read this if you want to make some sense of the controls and some other features in the game. Don't worry, though, it's a quick read -- just make sure you read it all.

Bottom Line

I felt this game was trying too hard. I found most of its uniqueness to be more annoying and difficult to work with than fun. The mediocre graphics and ever-changing camera views don't help the playability much. The AI appears to not play very well except on the hard difficulty, making this a hard and/or unsatisfying game at best. In general, I find it is easier to play actual tennis than this game which is why I give it a score of 71.

reggie posted a review
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