The Dreamcast had the superb Virtua Tennis and unfortunately the PS2 does not. It's a simple fact and this summer, more than ever a host of developers have tried to bring that Virtua Tennis experience to the Sony's machine. There's been Next Generation Tennis and Smash Court Tennis that we have looked at so far. Next Generation Tennis failed miserably and whilst Smash Court Tennis was a lot better it did not equal the brilliance of Virtua Tennis. Slam Tennis could be the Tennis game you've been looking for though. In terms of gameplay and graphics it's the best tennis game we've seen on the PS2.
Like NGT and SCT it's obvious that the game has been heavily influence by the great Virtua Tennis, and why not it's a great example to follow. The game comes with 16 different players. These include Henman, Moya and Norman. What is noticeable is that the players have their own individual characteristics and style of play and even a favoured shot. There are 11 different courts to play on and a variety of surfaces have been included. As with the other tennis games we have looked at recently, the ball physics on the different surfaces is very good. There is even a beach court and needless to say the bounce is not too brilliant here.
Of course control is everything in any game and tennis simulations are no exception. Slam Tennis has a very comfortable control scheme. The X button performs a flat shot/serve. The circle button performs a top spin shot/serve. The square button performs a backspin shot/serve and the triangle button performs a lob shot. The L1 and R1 button add left and right spin to a shot. The directional buttons or the left analogue stick can be used for player movement and shot direction. Right from the first game you play it feels natural. One thing I should mention though is that force feedback is not as satisfying as it is in Smash Court Tennis, a small point but a valid one nevertheless.
The gameplay modes are Arcade, Exhibition, Championship and Challenge Games. Arcade mode is a single player affair that allows you to play short games against increasingly difficult opponents. Exhibition mode allows 1-4 players to participate in a one-off match or tournament in either a singles of doubles configuration. Challenge Games throws up some mini-games that offer some relief from competitive tennis. These games include destroying beach balls, collapsing columns and bursting bubbles by hitting tennis balls against these objects.
The central focus of the game is Championship mode. You can choose one of four paths to achieve this. There is Road to England, Road to France, Road to Australia and Road to USA. Each of these paths includes completing 14 objectives before ultimately attempting to win the relevant tournament. Initially only one player is available in Championship mode. Others can be unlocked with winning the appropriate objectives. Extra courts, kit and cheats can also be unlocked.
One key difference between Slam Tennis and Virtua Tennis is the special shot. At the top of the screen there is a special shot meter. Successful shots will eventually fill this meter up. Once filled the meter will flash. A double tap of any button will perform a special shot. These special shots are almost impossible to return and will win you the point. It does take a good number of shots to fill the meter though so don't be worried if these seems like it will unbalance the game. It's just a feature that rewards good play.
There isn't any subtitles for the minimal commentary/Umpire comments. All the relevant details are shown in text though, such as the objectives for the mini-games and challenges and the game is absolutely fine for deaf gamers.
There is no doubt about it Slam Tennis is the finest tennis games you can play on the PS2 at the moment. One of my main gripes with the other tennis games we have looked at recently is that the AI does not hit the ball out of play. Well in Slam Tennis they hit the ball out of play, hit the net occasionally and even get unlucky sometimes when you hit the ball and it flicks the top of the net and bobbles, realistically on the floor. The only thing we were disappointed with is that you can't create your own tennis player to develop, still there has to something for the sequel. For XBOX gamers the wait for a class Tennis game will not nearly be as long as the one PS2 owners have had to endure as Slam Tennis is coming to XBOX very shortly and hopefully we'll be able to bring you a review of that too.
Overall Game Rating: 8.8/10 Our tennis game of choice on the Playstation 2.
Deaf Gamers comment: The minimal commentary and Umpire comments are not subtitled but every other piece of detail is given in text.