PS2/Xbox Review - 'Outlaw Tennis'

by Gordy Wheeler on Sept. 20, 2005 @ 1:50 a.m. PDT

Outlaw Tennis is a top quality tennis sim combined with the outrageous characters, play modes and humor of the Outlaw series of games. The Fighting/composure system that is unique to the Outlaw series adds a whole new dimension to the otherwise conservative world of tennis. Get ready to hit the courts, beat the daylights out of your opponent and cause a "racquet."

OUTLAW TENNIS

Genre: Sports
Publisher: Global Star Software
Developer: Hypnotix
Release Date: July 26, 2005

Buy 'OUTLAW TENNIS': Xbox | PlayStation 2

The Outlaw Tennis game box claimed that I was in for a totally wild and comedic ride crammed full of strippers, fighting giant robots with tennis balls, and plenty of loud, blaring rock music. From what I was led to believe, it would be a strange and unruly version of tennis like nothing I had seen before.

Okay, sure! I can believe that!

After reading the fact sheet, I had to check the header to be sure it was talking about the same game. That told me that Outlaw Tennis is all about a complex tennis engine, with emphasis on controlling your shots. Special attention was paid to describing the AI system, which supposedly learns your tricks and adapts so they won't work anymore. The fact sheet told me that Outlaw Tennis takes tennis quite seriously indeed.

Again: Okay, sure! I can believe that, too!

Now to get more to the point. I actually sat down and played Outlaw Tennis and had intended to play it just for a little while, kind of get the feel of the game and whatnot. About five hours later, I sat back, twitching and sweating a little, and reviewed the following two points:

Point A - Outlaw Tennis does indeed present both what the box claims and what the fact sheet claims, although it's skewed more towards the latter as far as the gameplay goes. Bookending each game, set and match are a number of silly scenes and skits involving the Outlaw cast, plenty of jiggling and gratuitous panty shots from the females, as well as some hilarious commentary (I say that as a fan of the man, mind you) by The Daily Show's Steven Colbert. During the actual gameplay, however, you've got a fairly serious tennis game with some interesting variations and a slightly too-sharp AI.

Point B - Outlaw Tennis, to put it gently, is a very difficult game. To put it less gently, it'll kick your butt unless you're very familiar with tennis video games in general.

This is, in part, because of the aforementioned slightly too-sharp AI, which in higher difficulty levels has a tendency to anticipate your shots well in advance, or to simply leap Superman-style crosscourt in front of what looks like a well-placed winning backhand. That can feel a little bit cheap sometimes. However, in part it's a difficult game because it's just plain well-designed. The AI is usually quite believable on the lowest setting, and it's still tough enough to give you a genuine workout. There's a learning curve involved so if you're new to video game tennis, you'll need to figure out when it's best to go with a lob or a straight shot, but once you get a handle on it, you'll do all right.

Now for virtual tennis veterans who are wondering what Outlaw Tennis brings to the table so far as unique features, well, this one's a little harder to pin down. Let me walk you through the process.

Outlaw Tennis comes with four characters unlocked. There are an eventual total of 16 unlockable characters. Choosing a character is basically a matter of picking which doofy stereotype you want to play as. Would you like the thin whiny gangsta-rap-blaring suburban white boy? Would you prefer the half-naked, palm-to-mouth-yodeling, headdress-wearing Native American girl? How about a ninja? (Everyone loves ninjas. They're totally sweet.) If you'd rather go with the predictable, there's Summer the stripper, who also holds a PhD in physics.

Your character's personality will affect the goofy cut scenes, sure, and what lines you get during play. Each character also has their own stat ranking, from Strength to Accuracy to Serving and Endurance. To increase these stats, you'll need to hit up the mini-game area, which is where you'll spend your time swatting tennis balls at giant robots, playing a variant version of Missile Command to improve your accuracy, or simply trying to smack the ball at tiles to reveal cheesecake-y pictures of the game's female cast. Exploitive? A tad, but since Outlaw Tennis is flaunting its offbeat nature every other way it can find, it might as well go with this one, too.

Once you've gotten your character's stats to a point where they might be able to compete with the powerful computer players, it's off to the Tour mode. Each character gets a list of unique challenges to complete, from "Win in this Doubles game" to "Play this Pinball-styled tennis game, best two out of three, with bumpers enabled." Outlaw Tennis offers a variety of modes, from Pinball (which places scoring targets on the field and challenges you to rack up a high score) to Ping Pong (which plays like... well, Ping Pong). My personal favorite is Hot Potato, where the ball steadily charges up as it's whacked back and forth until it explodes violently, taking out everyone on one side of the court. It's your job to ensure it isn't your side.

Oh, and yes, you can play simple straight-up tennis, too. This wouldn't be much of a tennis game without that.

The controls are mostly up to the task, although there are a few oddities that crop up. Each of the face buttons puts out a specific kind of shot, straight or lob or backhand or the like. They're context sensitive to a degree, so where you are in relation to the oncoming ball determines how you return the shot. You also get a turbo button, for hyper speed careening around the court. It comes off as almost essential to making some shots. The turbo button also activates the various "special" shots available, although it's usually not worth using these. The computer doesn't seem to have much trouble returning them, and their use leaves you winded and unable to move for a moment to field the almost-inevitable return.

You can also win an additional free turbo boost by beating the heck out of your opponent in a button-mashing fighting mini-game. I honestly don't know what to say about this. It's a deliberate parody of Mortal Kombat, and it's absolutely ridiculous.

The graphics in Outlaw Tennis are adequate but not groundbreaking. Character models are a little stiffer than they really ought to be, but the number of shot animations and minor touches in personality make up for it. The courts themselves do suffer a bit from the typical sports game problem of having what looks like cardboard cutouts of spectators standing around watching the game, although the courts themselves are fairly detailed. In general, the graphics succeed in getting the message across, even if the ball can be hard to make out against lighter-colored courts.

The audio deserves, among other things, a couple of rounds of applause for allowing you to use your own custom soundtrack in place of the (rather shrug-worthy) included music. Aside from that, the only audio you're going to hear during the game itself is the steady "pock" of tennis balls swatted back and forth and the occasional commentary of Stephen Colbert. Between sets is when the voice acting comes out to play, and it's a mixed bag. Some characters sound annoying and are meant to annoy, some characters sound great all around, and some are painful to listen to but clearly weren't meant to be.

That's about the way Outlaw Tennis flies all around, come to think of it. Some aspects of it come off as slightly annoying, but they were clearly set up like that to encourage you to learn the game. Each character really needs a run through the training mode to achieve the ability to even hope to stand up to the CPU. With only four characters unlocked at the start, however, it's easy to assign your points to less useful skills and end up needing to clear your save data and restart the game. That's something I associate with RPGs, not tennis. Beating the game with each character unlocks another, and beating it again with the unlocked characters unlocks another set. Getting everyone opened up for multiplayer therefore comes off as rather tedious, and frankly, I can't imagine most players are going to bother with it, instead turning to cheats to get on with their game.

The only other aspects of Outlaw Tennis that deserves a downside is the control, and to a lesser but related degree, the manual. The manual fails to tell you most of the things you really need to know to play this game, such as that holding down the buttons makes for stronger shots, and that releasing the button just after or as you swing makes for a strong follow-through, essential to controlling the ball. Additionally, it's all too easy to get set up for a shot, push the turbo button to give yourself an extra power boost, adjust the aiming of your shot with the analog stick, and then watch helplessly as your character turns and runs away because you started to swing a split-second too soon for the ball to be in your hit-detection range. These are the things that put your television in danger of having an Xbox controller flung at it, and trust me, those things can do some damage on impact.

For the most part, however, Outlaw Tennis manages to pull off something I didn't think it could do: it blends goofball antics and serious tennis kind of nicely. The skits are hit-or-miss, and usually miss, but the commentary is rock-solid. This is the kind of game where you can see the flaws in it, and they'll bother you, but it's just fun to keep playing anyway because you know you can win if you could just get the ball ever so slightly to the right, or if your reflexes were just a little faster. The next thing you know, it's three in the morning and you've been playing tennis all night long, trying to unlock the next mini-game so you can boost your stats a bit and take on the World Tour mode again. I'd call that a solidly successful tennis game.

Score: 7.5/10

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