Sport. The word divides some and unites others. Lately, sports games have struggled in maintaining my attention for more than a couple of hours. My Xbox 360 was a hub of FIFA, Top Spin and Madden enjoyment. But no matter how many fancy tweaks developers made to ball flight, team management and impact engines, each new iteration suffered from the same thing; beyond a roster update, it was the same game.
As a tennis fan, my beloved sport has had no attention in games since the late-2000s. I would love to see some brave developer, and an equally brave publisher, take a punt and make a tennis game for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.
Though tennis games are few and far between, that’s all the more reason to give them a go. There‘s lots of room for potential and even greater room for innovation and improvements to gameplay. Top Spin 4 deserves credit for putting a telecast edge on each match, whether it was at a suburban or Grand Slam level.
However, the best depiction of the sport I’ve played would have to be Smash Court Tennis 2 (2004, PS2), with its realistic tournament progression (that is, qualifying tournaments for events higher than your ranking) and intuitive match progression systems. The latter played through the ‘clutch’ moments in a match and used that momentum to simulate to the next big moment. Quite simply, it was the best. It was a superb way of giving each match an extra bit of visual appeal and intensity. Also, the player was no longer forced to play drawn-out six-game sets.
The crux of any sports game lies in its career mode. For too long, tennis career modes have been hampered by an arcade feel with mundane calendar management and boring lessons built around hitting balloons for accuracy or dodging falling rocks to build agility. In this day and age, a tennis game needs an in-depth and realistic career mode – no more arcade-y lessons and tutorials. Leading the way should be the micromanagement of your finances (consumables, equipment, sponsors, coaching fees, etc.), media appearances and interviews, and a simple yet robust button layout.
Furthermore, possible play styles have always been built around skill sets such as baseliner, serve/volley, all-rounder, etc. It’s simple enough, and makes sense, but more sophisticated mechanics need to be implemented. Small, RPG-like building blocks could be in the form of responses to press critique – affecting your fan base and sponsor approval rating.
Reaching the world number one ranking is always the ultimate goal of any tennis video game. Its main problem is that players can reach the top 10 into their second or third year after turning professional. With a fifteen year career, the next 12 aren’t going to be very exciting for the player, are they?
To combat this, an introductory season on the Junior World Tour could be used to sculpt the player into their future self (strengths, weaknesses, on-court/off-court personality, etc.). Reaching the dizzy heights of world number one has always been extremely easy, and applying a slower rank progression system, as well as other talented junior players being labeled the ‘Next Big Thing’, would be invaluable.
It would also be awesome for a publisher to nail the feeling of grassroots and telecasted matches, whilst delivering some sweet graphics that a game of this generation deserves. The genre of sports needs as many variations representing it as possible – otherwise the market will inevitably be swallowed up by football.
What would you like to see from a new tennis game? Have your say in the comments section below.