PSP Game Review: Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip!

It was with some surprise that I realized that while I was greatly enjoying what I consider the best PSP game since 2008, Persona 3 Portable, I had actually been spending more time playing Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip! What is it about this game that seems to refuse to let me stop playing? Read on and find out!

The Hype:
The ear-deafening cheers from the crowd have died down, as you bounce the ball in preparation of your serve for championship point. You toss the ball into the air and strike it with the sweet spot of the racket. The ball rockets toward the other side, barely missing the top of the net. It strikes the court just inside the line and bounces toward the end line. Your opponent reacts too slowly, and just misses the ball for an ace. The crowd erupts as you fall to your knees, toss your racket aside and savor the victory of your first major tournament.

* Play with up to three other people in four-player doubles matches in multiplayer mode
* Enjoy tennis in true Hot Shots style
* Meet a loveable and wacky cast of characters
* Compete on multiple courts in a variety of spectacular locations
* Perform well to unlock items

The Reality:
Way back in 2005 I bought both Hot Shots Golf and Tiger Woods Golf ’06 (I skipped the initial release). Both were solid golf games, and while Tiger Woods provided a more detailed, technically accurate game, I found that I would play and recommend Hot Shots Golf ten times out of ten. Why? It was just so much more FUN!

That is exactly what I love about Hot Shots Tennis. I have played Smash Court Tennis, and both of the Virtua Tennis games on the PSP; and while it is easy to dismiss Smash Court as just being mediocre, Virtua Tennis is technically a better tennis experience than Hot shots – once again I would choose Hot Shots ten times out of ten!

I don’t want to imply that Hot Shots isn’t a solid technical tennis game. The game requires you to actually play tennis and to think like a tennis player – if someone is rushing the net you don’t want to hand them a cream-puff volley up the middle!

When you start the game, you have two players to select from – a boy who favors net play and a girl who is an all-around balanced player. You will see from the very start that each player has a distinct ‘feel’ in terms of how quickly they move, how accurately – and fast – they serve, how well they hit on the run, and so on.

Once you get going you will see how the mechanics of the game work. You move around the court using the analog stick and hit the ball using one of the shape buttons. Each button has a specific shot such as power shot, slice, or lob assigned to it. You can also get a smash when your opponent hits you an overhead shot and you hit it while still in the air.

You can also get more powerful returns if you have your feet planted and stroke in perfect time as the ball passes you – you can make your shots non-returnable through a combination of position, timing and placement. If you miss the timing you lose power and placement, but sometimes it is enough to catch your opponent off-guard.

As I mentioned, the game threads a story about a tennis group that looks to spread the joy of tennis throughout the world by seeking to make allies of skilled players who no longer see the joy in the game. You start off journeying to a small tennis club to challenge the top player there. However, he has abandoned tennis and locked himself into the locker room. You need to work with other players and show yourself as a worthy opponent to force him to defend his status and challenge you.

The game itself plays much like a RPG: as you win matches you gain points towards new levels that unlock new shots and special skills. The greater your victory the more points you amass, and if you crush your opponent you get an ‘Epic Win’ bonus. You also gain extra points if one of your characters specifically requests to play and you win.

Aside from points you can use to buy items in the pro shop, you gain items through winning matches. These items help you earn new ‘equipment levels’ and also give your characters special abilities. Most items simply provide a bonus, allowing you to select what works best for a given character. Rackets, on the other hand, offer a compromise – some things are improved but at the expense of others. The cool thing is that it is usually possible to find a solid choice that combines your strengths and your player’s strengths in a way that helps you avoid weaknesses.

At each location as you defeat the ‘boss’ character, they invariably come to join you on your international quest to spread tennis love. Pretty soon you have a large cast of characters and really need to make some choices. Each character has a ‘loyalty rating’ which also levels up based on the points gained in matches. The higher your loyalty the more useful your character will be against your opponents.

Of course, you cannot gain maximum loyalty with all characters without replaying loads of matches which gets very tedious, so you need to find a smaller subset of players to use as your primary stars. Of course, you will invariably come across someone every now and then who completely over-shadows the character you have spent half the game grooming!

Hot Shots Tennis features multiplayer matches over local WiFi which offers loads of fun between friends or family. And because of the colorful graphics and over-the-top silliness of the presentation, even during the most competitive matches the atmosphere remains light.

As I said at the start, I have been playing loads of Hot Shots Tennis during the last few weeks and will continuing picking it up on occasion even though I have ‘beaten’ the game and unlocked everything. There is a nearly endless amount of stuff to do and challenges to unlock – and all of it is loads of fun! This is by far my favorite tennis game on any platform!

Where to Buy:

Price: $19.99

What I Like:
+ Fun, fun, fun!
+ Solid tennis game simulation
+ Very challenging
+ Different players FEEL different
+ Deeply rooted RPG system

What Needs Improvement:
– Core game structure is the same from place to place.

Source: Personal copy of game bought through PSN.

Categories: Gaming, Reviews


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