Developer: Sumo Digital
Release Date: March 18, 2008
Gather round, dear readers, and listen as this crotchety old gamer (yes, folks, I am, as of this writing, rocking the ripe age of 28) tells you all a story. Some of you may remember it, and some may not. Still, it's a story that must be told because it has a point to drive home.
Back during the 8- and 16-bit console eras, two companies were locked in direct competition with one another: Nintendo and Sega. These two companies were represented by a stable of mascots and heroes — characters that appealed to their audience and served as signs of great gaming. Nintendo had the likes of Mario, Donkey Kong, Samus and Link; Sega had Sonic the Hedgehog, Opa-Opa, Alex Kidd, and ... uh, Michael Jackson. (Hey, I didn't make the rules.) The rivalry spilled out of the corporate world and into the playgrounds; most parents weren't rich or cool enough to give their kids both companies' systems, so heated arguments tended to break out over why the system each kid played was way cooler than the system their friends had from those other guys.
Commercials like this sure didn't help matters.
As the years wore on, the portfolios of these companies expanded, as did their roster of lovable, memorable characters, franchises, locales and canon. OutRun met F-Zero and Mario Kart. Wario Ware met Chu Chu Rocket and Puyo Puyo Fever. Paper Mario and Earthbound met Skies of Arcadia. Donkey Konga met Jet Set Radio. And so it went.
Eventually, one of these companies decided that they wanted to celebrate their huge stable of franchises (and no doubt make a boatload of money in the process). They skinned their beloved characters over a fighting game they'd been developing, and added a ton of assets from their company's history. Thus, Super Smash Brothers was born: a gigantic crossover mash-up of everything Nintendo. It's something celebrated by dyed-in-the-wool Nintendo fans each console generation … but the other camp, for years, never had such a thing to call their own.
Sega Superstars Tennis is a wonderful game. For anyone who owned any of Sega's systems, or even just grew up in the arcades where the company held a large presence, this title holds meaning and relevance. For anyone who held their own against the Nintendo fans on the school playground, this title is a celebration. For the children of today who love Sonic the Hedgehog, or are just getting into all of the classic Sega franchises that are getting rereleases and overhauls, this title can please. It's made by a studio who loves Sega, is packed to the brim with assets that recall the days of gaming yore (when blue skies were the dominant force of video games), and Richard Jacques — a composer whose name, by now, is forever be tied to the company — wrote the audio.
No matter the system it plays host to, its graphics and art direction are wonderful, only varying by the resolution and amount of polygons used. The message gets across nonetheless. It's filled with visuals that are teeming with life and color. Any music track in the game is either a remastered song from a classic Sega game, or inspired by one. It contains comedic twists on classic games, and a solid base besides. It also retails for between $10 and $20 now, depending on the platform, so there is absolutely no excuse anymore for anyone not to own it.
Few games (the aforementioned Super Smash Bros. included) manage to sell themselves so well simply due to the fact that they're packed with fan service. Mind you, all the perfectly placed fan service in the world is meaningless without a good game engine to back it up. Fortunately, SST follows a formula so simple it's a wonder it wasn't used before: Take the game engine for Sega's own Virtua Tennis 3 — arguably the best-playing tennis game on the current market — and slap Sega franchises over it. Voila, instant fun. The roster consists of about 60 percent Sonic characters, with the rest hailing from Jet Set Radio, NiGHTS, Samba de Amigo, Space Channel 5, Super Monkey Ball and even golden oldies like Alex Kidd and Golden Axe. Different stages from even more Sega games, like After Burner and OutRun, are tossed into the mix just before the blender's activated.
Even with just what's been mentioned, the game would have come out as quality, but Sumo Digital went the extra mile and designed a huge mission mode based on Sega classics. You can mow down zombies and convicts in tennis-ized renditions of House of the Dead and Virtua Cop, respectively. Tennis-powered puzzlers in the form of Puyo Puyo Fever, Super Monkey Ball and Chu Chu Rocket will test your mind while tickling your funny bone. There's lots to see and do, and outside of a couple of frustrating head-scratchers (the AI in a couple of tournaments, the entirety of the Jet Set Radio mission set), it's all very solid and amusing stuff. (The Space Harrier level is actually my favorite, despite being sort of clunky.)
All this, and it still plays a mean game of regular tennis when you get tired of all the wacky stuff. However, the madness doesn't end here — each character has a "Superstar Move" that can be activated once a meter fills up. This move is based on their character: Sonic powers up into Super Sonic, Dr. Eggman throws out electrified spiked balls, the Jet Set Radio folks call in their supporting cast, and Alex Kidd destroys you with jan-ken-pon. (Again, I don't make these rules.) You can turn these off and turn the game into a slightly looser Virtua Tennis (with two buttons instead of four), but that sort of defeats the purpose of the whole thing.
In case it isn't painfully obvious, I love Sega Superstars Tennis. I hope that somewhere down the line, a sequel is made that crams in as much of Sega's history and obscurity as possible, and plays up the crossover aspect even further. Right now, however, I'm merely thankful we got this.
So, now that I've gushed about how wonderful the title is as a whole, let's take a look specifically at the Wii version.
Graphically it's a notch above the PS2 and DS versions. Resolution aside, it's almost as good as the PS3/360 renditions. Most of the characters are still in place, with but a few omissions in terms of population (the Space Channel 5 stage is most obvious). The Wii makes a strong showing here. Some of the missions seem to be truncated (to no great loss — some of those Jet Set Radio missions really would have scarred some of the kids), but the music is present and accounted for.
Since we're talking about the Wii, controls are essential. SST gives you four ways to play, three of which work out pretty well. If you play with the Wiimote and Nunchuk, you get to swing the tennis racket with the Wiimote while directing the ball with the Nunchuk's analog stick. It's kind of pointless, as your remote swing serves as nothing but a button press, but it's decent if you want precise control and added interactivity in one shot. If you don't feel like waving your arms, then you can play with the Classic Controller for that true Virtua Tennis feel, and have total control over your ball and swing arcs to boot.
Arguably the coolest way to play, however, is with the Wiimote turned vertically, which gives you the most options. It lets you play the game Wii Sports-style, with your character automatically tracking the ball, only requiring you to swing. The Wiimote tracks the speed and direction of your swing, giving you power and directional ball control. However, if you wish, you can use the d-pad to move your character, overriding the automatic movement. Holding the A and B buttons also add lob and drop shot properties to your swing. It takes a few minutes to get used to, but it's actually quite novel, and is personally my favorite way to play this version.
The one control option that isn't so hot is with the Wiimote turned on its side. This gives you the least precise control over your ball and character movement, and it's generally not so fun. So, of course, it's mandatory for the more "interactive" mission modes, such as the ones for House of the Dead. No virtual zombie-killing for you! Oh, Sega. You're so good at making absolutely no sense sometimes.
There's one big omission with this version, however, which costs it points, and that's its complete lack of online capability. The next-gen versions have it, but on the one system where this sort of laid-back, easily accessible fun is most welcomed, there is no way to get a match going on with distant friends. It's a darned shame because if it'd had online, this would easily be one of the Wii's premier games —almost the Sega equivalent of Smash — "Power Smash Bros.," if you will.
So, bottom line: should you get Sega Superstars Tennis? If all you have is a Wii, then even with its shortcomings compared to other versions, absolutely. Pick up a Classic Controller while you're at it for the mission mode. If you have a 360 or a PS3, however, it'd be best if you got one of those versions instead. Either way, just make sure you play this great game. It's easily one of this year's sleeper hits.
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