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Developer: Gremlin OPTIONS: S.SHOT
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Distributor: Gremlin 1-4 Player Multi-tap
Game Type: Sports Sim Memory Card
Review Date: November 1998 Analog Compatible

Setting the Scene

Does anyone else out there remember the very first computerised arcade tennis game?

The court was a plain, jet black screen. There were no players, only two white rectangular 'bats' and a square ball which was launched from behind the server.

The object of the game was to ping-pong the ball back and forth, attempting to bypass your opponents 'racket', thus scoring a point. It was obviously based on table tennis as the first player to amass 21 points was deemed the winner.

There were no lob shots, backspin or after-touch, but with practice you could strike the ball on the corner of your rectangle to produce a 45° rebound shot that impressed the hell out of the gathering crowd.

The sound effects were three simple tones. A high pitched bleep for a good connection, a medium buzz for a rebound and a dull blooper for a lost point.

This game was highly addictive and hours would roll by when playing this retro classic. Yet... there were no motion captured players, high res courts, accurate sound effects or the complete repertoire of shots. Isn't it strange how most of the 32-bit tennis games contain all of this glitzy presentation but there is not one that I would queue up for in the arcades like I did back in the days of the old 'ping-pong box'.


Actua Soccer and Actua Golf have established the Actua Sports brand as one of the leading forces in sporting simulations. Actua Tennis is the third instalment of the award winning Gremlin sports series.
Anyone for tennis?


Considering how long we have waited for Gremlin to unveil the Actua Tennis series I truly expected their first service to be a blazing Ace. Having witnessed most of the tennis competition on the Playstation I had anticipated truly realistic, motion captured players sprinting smoothly across the surface to scoop up that 'unreachable' cross court smash. I wanted to see small boys and girls scurrying like hamsters below the line of the net to retrieve the dead balls. The umpire should be raising his arms and barking orders at the shuffling crowds warning them to keep quiet or else play would be suspended. Line judges must lean from their chairs sideways to capture that perfect angle of vision. Players would enjoy a banana, drink and wipe-down during intervals. Surely some of these ideas would evolve.

What you actually get is motion captured players, officials and effects that are... well... fairly average. Many of the players do look similar to their real life counterparts, this isn't the problem. It's their movement! Motioning them forward sees their little legs pit-a-pat towards the ball. However when moving sideways the players appear as though they are standing stationary on an shifting escalator or have their feet firmly planting on a runaway skateboard. Their bodies move... but the legs remain rigid. Tennis on ice, maybe?

Another obvious problem is that you can run your player way past the ball, press the shot button and even though your players racket is nowhere near the ball a return stroke is still played. A bit messy! The rowdy crowd are simply cardboard cutouts that occasionally 'clap their hands', the ball boys are noticeable by their absence, the umpire is surely stuffed, while the line judges are most probably dead. As far as refreshments and towels are concerned you must supply your own.

At least the choice of camera angles allow you to view the action from any position and replay those dubious line calls again and again. First you must decide whether the camera is to remain static or move across court with the player. Then you may select from high angles, low angles, top down... even close up behind the player. Also within the game menu is the option on ball size and trail. With an extra large luminous ball that has a longer trail on it than your average comet even the partially blind could play Actua Tennis.

Sadly in the visual department Actua Tennis leaps no great boundaries and looks similar to all rivals. Still, there's always the improved gameplay to look forward too.

Sounds and Effects

The action is backed by a celebrity commentary team of BBC top man Barry Davies, former British player Sue Barker and Australian tennis star Pat Cash. It all amounts to a series of one-liners strung together at the end of each point but it goes a little way towards creating some sort of atmosphere. The celebrities may be selected individually or combined for dual commentary.

All of the grunts, groans, bounces, and line calls are accurately represented. The crowd can be heard gently mumbling in the background until the player begins to serve and then roar their approval when the point is finally won. It's all very orderly, but then that's tennis for you.


I persevering with Actua tennis for over a week but it took several days before I eventually warmed to the gameplay. Once you can learn to ignore the odd graphical blip there is a rather challenging series of matches to participate in.

So many tennis games get it all wrong, even before a single ball has been returned in anger. Why? Simple... the service. A good service can make or break a tennis match. In the past we have had the automatic serve - a boring single press of a button. Then there was the totally inaccurate 'press once to lob and press again to strike' system.

Thankfully Gremlin have incorporated their golfing 'swingometer' powerbar into the serving routine where a gamble may just pay off... or could equally be responsible for your downfall. It really works! Select your required shot and then press and hold the relevant button. The longer you hold the button down determines the strength and speed of your service. However this also decides on how fast the rising guage will return to the sweet spot. Pass the sweet spot and the ball will plummet into the net. Fail to reach the sweet spot and the serve will travel higher than expected.

By combining a powerful top spin serve with a little after-touch you will soon advance to the later stages of a tournament. Here you meet the 'big guns'. The guys with the 140+mph serves. Game on!

The options are plentiful offering three difficulty levels, 1, 3, or 5 set matches, tie breaks and super shots. Game modes include a Quick Match, Single Match, Single Tournament and World Tour.

The Quick Match allows you to jump straight into a random match against a CPU or human opponent without setting the game options.

A Single Match allows you to set the style of game to be played, which can be Men's Singles/ Doubles, Women's Singles/Doubles or Mixed Doubles.

A Single Tournament is a five round knockout competition for one or two players. You may select your venue from Yokohoma Japan, Stockholm in Sweden, Naples in Italy, Apedoorne in the Netherlands, Frankfurt in Germany, Paris in France, Madrid in Spain, Dallas in Texas, Melbourne Australia and Southampton in England. The court surface varies from cement, clay, grass and rebound ace surface.

The controller may be configured to use the standard or analog pad. Both move the players around the court with speed and accuracy. Face buttons allow lobs, back spin, flat shot and top spin. The shoulder buttons activate replays, scoreboard and the occasional Extreme Shot. When using a multi-tap up to four players may participate in doubles matches.

Choose your player from the top 62 male/female players in the world. So whether to wish to have the powerful serve of Greg Rusedski and Pete Sampras, or the cross court speed of Monica Seles and Lindsay Davenport, the choice is yours. There is also the option to create your own player in the Edit Menu. Here you may decide on the players nationality, height, build, appearance (shades, headbands...) clothes, racket and finally their name.

Value for Money

Actua Tennis is simply the best tennis game available on the Playstation.... unfortunately that doesn't add up to much. All I can suggest is that if you are after a tennis game then check this title out. There's gameplay in abundance and a superb serving system that removes that large element of luck.

GRAPHICS: 13/20 To be fair this is Gremlins first attempt at a tennis game. For the first time on the Playstation serving the ball feels comfortable and you seem to be in total control of your player. It's just a shame that the graphical glitches spoil the visual effect. Roll on Actua Tennis 2.
SOUND: 6/10
VALUE: 13/20


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