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Developer Smart Dog Options
Distributer UBI Soft 1-4 Player
Game Type Sports Sim Memory Card
Review Date January 1998 Multi-tap
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Setting the Scene
Any one for tennis? This sport has always proved difficult to convert into a video game, probably because of it's stop- start gameplay. So do we have a tennis game available on PSX that looks good and creates the kind of tension that the final points of a Grand Slam Tournament provides?
UBI Soft, along with developers Smart Dog, hopefully intend to succeed where others have failed with their highly polished title Tennis Arena - a game that blends quality visuals with simplistic gameplay.

Each of the characters have been realistically motion captured and then constructed from polygons, although never a weirder bunch of would-be-champs could surely have passed your eyes. Four male players and the equivalent number of sports women are up for grabs. If you are reading this review 'after' playing Tennis Arena then I bet your first selection was the Sumo Wrestler William Chan. That's correct - a tennis game with a beach whale that has World Ranking points. I also think that your second choice will probably be the curvaceous Yoko Hayasmi, whose legs just keep on going - until they almost reach her neck. Or how about the cute Brit, Zoe Taylor, whose attire is more suitable for a picnic by the river rather than a Grand Slam Final. Another British player is Dave Woodward who believes that his game will improve by wearing long trousers - must be the climate.

During open play and rallies the characters more quite well around the court and react instantly to your command - crouching down for those tricky low shots and leaping high into the air for those altitudinous lobs. They also perform full length dives but these motions seem a little delayed to begin with before bursting into a ridiculous acceleration for the tumble.

The venues are well depicted offering a wide range of playing surfaces to test your skill. The courts use grass, clay and artificial surfaces. A nice visual touch is offered when a point is won when the normally static crowds show a little movement with their hands to gesticulate applause. Each dubious shot is treated to a slow motion replay marking the landing point of the ball with a yellow dot to avoid disputes. Ballboys/girls run out to collect the 'dead' balls but they can sometimes be a little too quick off the mark and slow to return.

Sounds and Effects
Most of the sound effects have been well handled. As your player walks on court the noise of the crowd rises to a crescendo before tailing off to the voices of a few late comers, while occasional shouts from the crowd serve to spur on the players who grunt and groan their way through every set. Every venue has it's own umpire who calls out the score after every point while the side umpires call the 'fault and out' shots.

The music is pretty average and thankfully only appears at the option screen.

Many tennis games have failed miserably because they have attempted to be too realistic by using one button to throw the ball into the air and another split second press to strike the ball at it's highest point. This has proved to be a gimmick that only served to frustrate the player and stop the game from flowing. Tennis Arena sticks to the basics with one button for each action - serve, top spin, backspin and lob. The directional pad moves the player around the court and affects the direction of each shot. The top two should buttons give the ball a little after touch. Simple and effective.

The R2 button activates a 'special move' which is offered when the ball is returned six times in a row. A nice idea that encourages rallies. A yellow star will appear below the player to indicate one of their three special shots is active, but you may choose to wait for another three returns to upgrade this feature into a Unique Special Shot that is virtually unstoppable.

There are two ways to play Tennis Arena. Smash Tennis is the Exhibition and Multi-player mode where up to four players may take part in a game of doubles, singles or an eight player knock-out tournament.

Once you become accustomed to play there is also an option to play out a full World Tour. Select a character and follow their progress over a 20 stage tour of the world. You begin with 310 points and a world ranking at number ten. Your aim is to become the Number 1 seeded player on the tour. Tactical decisions must be made on which event you should enter as the number of points awarded is dependant on how good your opponent is, how many rounds you play through and which type of competition you enter. The World Series is relatively easy to succeed in and only requires 10th ranking to enter. The medium paced Champion Series requires your ranking to be sixth or better. The Grand Slam only accepts 4th rankings while the UBI Super Cup is only for the top three players in the world.

There are eight player to select from, each with individual skills, attributes and their own selection special of shots. You must study the profiles of your selected character and play to their strengths. Some are strong and accurate but lack in speed therefore hugging the baseline is recommended. Others are highly athletic and are dominant at the net.

There are five courts to play which are the medium paced New York Park in America, a very soft Pyramid City in Egypt, a fast wooden surface at Ocean Cruise just off the Red Sea, a low bouncing court in Paris and the slow surface with a nasty dipping bounce at the Roman Coliseum.

Value for Money
Tennis Arena is a smart looking game which has that pick-up-and-play feel to it. If it's a decent tennis game that you are after then check this offering out from UBI Soft - I think it may be to your liking.

GRAPHICS: Very Good I half completed a World Tour and then lost interest, but then tennis games have never really got my 'juices' flowing. I would rate Tennis Arena on a par with Pete Sampras Tennis which is the best game of this type presently available. The only annoyance was the inclusion of the 'special shot' in the World Tour mode. It should have remained in the more arcady Exhibition mode leaving at least one option to be more of a tennis simulation.

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