Sports games nowadays comes in two flavors: either you have games that simulate the sport as realistically as possible or those that go ahead and make it animated and over-the-top. That isn’t to say both can’t live in harmony with each other, but with a recent trend of sports titles from particular companies, it’s fair to say that realistic sports titles have been tainted in recent memory. From recent controversies of loot boxes implementation to a lack of innovation, it can feel like sports titles are stagnant, and getting recycled every passing year.
In tennis’s case though, there isn’t much outside of Mario Tennis Aces from 2018 and a few other titles. But there was one other tennis game: AO Tennis. While the first game had its fair share of issues, the sequel looks to improve on those mistakes. However, as simple as it would be to compare this game with its processor, AO Tennis 2 will be judged on its own merits.
While a sports game is mostly judged by the time spent on the court or field, it’s also very important to have fun side modes for the more casual fans. And AO Tennis 2’s career mode has a shocking amount of depth.
At the start, you can choose between an established tennis star or make your own character. The character creation is rather deep since you could not only fix up your player’s face, outfit, and play style, but also go nuts with the stats too. If you wish to have a balanced character, then put the points in your stats accordingly. If you want to just max out everything and make Rafael Nadal blush with jealousy, you can make it happen. It’s almost laughable at how much freedom they give you, but one can’t help but respect the developers for allowing you to do whatever you want (or be whoever you want) from the get-go.
The mode itself offers more than just “play tennis”. Each week, you can pick and choose what you want your avatar to do in regards to participating in tournaments, training to improve your stats, or resting up to prepare yourself for upcoming events. You can plan out your calendar weeks in advance, but you also have to take travel into account since travel time can fatigue your character. The only thing of note is that while you can choose to play “anywhere in the world”, you will quickly figure out that you should focus solely on playing in Australia because of the Australian Open. More on that later.
The Art of Tennis
The biggest thing that tennis games need to get right above all else are the controls. It’s one thing to be able to hit the ball, but it’s imperative that players can choose where they want their shots to land. AO Tennis 2 has a nice tutorial section that covers the wide range of shots players have at their disposal. The game gives you plenty to work with, and the tutorial will teach you how to perform every shot, and how to serve and receive. It is also during this time that the game shows where a ball can land so you can return it. It’s nice to have some idea of where you’ll slam the ball, especially to avoid hitting it out-of-bounds.
While the controls do take some getting used to, one glaring issue with the game is how the character themselves operate. If you’re familiar with tennis games, you’re probably used to charging your swings to smash the ball harder and with more precision. In AO Tennis 2 though, there is such a thing as “overcharge” where if you charge the hit too much, the shot itself won’t be as fast or accurate as you’d hope. It can be rather frustrating, as it can feel like your character freezes up and lets the ball fly by them. It can be especially apparent when playing doubles, making me stay away from AI partners whenever possible.
Challenging a Bad Call
You can challenge the ref during a match if you feel like they made a bad call. There are times when you can overturn it, but you can only challenge the ref a limited number of times. While it can feel like this would be a worthless feature to have in a video game, it was rather fascinating to see the amount of times characters would challenge a shot that looked out, only to find that it actually landed inside the court.
Expressing Yourself On and Off the Court
At times during a match, you have the option of triggering your mood by having your character react in a positive or negative fashion. Want to wave to the crowd after getting a point or compliment your opponent for a great play? Be happy. Want to get angry at everyone around you and go toss your racket to the ground? Get mad.
You’d think something like this wouldn’t really affect gameplay, but in career mode, the way you act will actually affect your reputation. This can range from how you act during a match to holding small press conferences. The mechanics aren’t anything groundbreaking, since the player isn’t directly answering the questions, but it is here where you shape your character’s reputation.
The biggest reason why you’d want to care about your reputation is to earn things like sponsorships in order to earn additional cash. More cash means you can hire staff to recover faster from fatigue or possible injuries alongside improving your stats. Normally, these small additions don’t feel like they add much, but in AO Tennis 2, it’s a nice touch to add more personality to your character.
Customizing Players and Courts
As mentioned previously, the amount of customization in AO Tennis 2 is rather commendable.
While character creation might not be anything new or special in this day and age, it’s rather nice to have so many options available to you as you create your tennis player, from the various ways you can adjust your face to the look of their attire and playstyle. If you want to control a generic character, you can do so. But if you want to feel a bit more stylish, you have many options. It can definitely help to make your character stand out, instead of feeling like every character is the same outside of what color shirt they have on.
You can also set up your very own courts too. One big thing about the Australian Open is how there can be up to 35 separate outdoor courts within three stadiums. As you can imagine, each of these courts of various shapes and sizes can hold a fair number of onlookers. While the courts in-game are just as varied, you can design your own personal court. If you want to make a giant court that could sit thousands with a roof, make it huge. If you want to make a smaller, more open court where that seats only a few hundred, go right ahead. It’s rather nice to give players the chance to customize so many things in this game.
While there are a few hiccups, AO Tennis 2 feels like a fairly good tennis game. There are still a couple of things the developers can improve on, like tightening up the controls to finally hit that perfect balance, but as is, it certainly scratches that itch for tennis. The other slightly glaring issue is how there aren’t really that many “real life” tennis players here.
That isn’t to say the real-life Australian Open has any particular stipulations in registration and participation, but when you can have about 128 players in the virtual Open and only 25 of them are real life figures (12 men and 13 women), it feels like there isn’t much variety in actual real-life participants. But at least you have Rafael Nadal, so if you like watching him in action, you can enjoy using him.
If you are someone who wants to have a good tennis game to enjoy, AO Tennis 2 can be a game to take note of. Just remember that the controls have a learning curve. When you get the hang of it though, you will certainly have a fun time smashing the ball past your opponent!
Thank You for Reading!
And that’s our review of AO Tennis 2. Red Ant Studios developed this particular tennis simulator and Bigben Interactive published and released it on January 9, 2020. If you wish to play it on Steam, you can do so right now for $49.99 USD.
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Also one final note: No joke. While trying out the various serves, my poor character got booed when doing an underhand serve. Unless I’m missing the part where an underhanded serve is supposed to be disrespectful — I only did it because I was hitting faults by mistake. Whoops…
- THE GOOD
- Career Mode is much deeper than anticipated
- Tons of customization options between characters, arenas, logos and game modes
- Good controls overall, but…
- THE BAD
- Get timing of stroke wrong, and watch the character just stand there
- Doubles can be cumbersome, especially with an AI partner
- Roster size is fairly lacking
While there are still plenty of areas AO Tennis 2 needs improvements in, it is still an enjoyable tennis experience. Once you get the hang of the controls, it can be a delight to play in short bursts.