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Perfect Ace: Pro Tournament Tennis

The summer is the time of year when we’re all meant to be running out to the shops to buy seasonally themed merchandise. Tennis tournaments are on, so naturally we want a tennis game to play to pass the time between real matches. Or at least that’s what’s meant to happen. Games publishers attempt to cash in on our supposed will to buy games which suit the weather. Deadlines are set for the developers and the titles are hurried onto shop shelves for us to sweep up while it’s still sunny outside. They have to hastily patch together games before the publisher pulls the plug on their funding and any chance of future deals. The pressure and subsequent stress gets to the developer and their game ends up in the bottom of bargain bins for eternity.

Lesson of the day: the only decent tennis games that have ever been released have not been released in the summer. Take Virtua Tennis and its sequel on the Dreamcast as an example. They came out in September and November respectively and gained critical acclaim. Then Droopy’s Tennis Open comes along on GBA in June and gets the opposite. Good tennis games aren’t the ones that have strict deadlines, the developers aren’t rushed and the result is an enjoyable game. Which is far from what Prefect Ace is.

It’s obvious that the developer wasn’t working on a large budget here. On receiving my copy, I briefly looked at the back of the package and then burst out laughing. The ‘blurb’ contains no less than 9 typos and grammatical errors, including “its very wide”, “The worlds” and “The Volley”. Shocking. Written quite clearly on the rear of the box is, “Recommended Specification: Processor Intel Pentium III or AMD 19hz”. On this guidance, I thought of installing Perfect Ace on my 30hz calculator, but alas, it has no CD drive. Surely someone proof read their work? Or maybe they were too busy doing the rest of the game before the deadline.

So I open the case and there’s no manual. This is no mistake, there’s 14 lines of installation instructions written on the back of the cover – a transparent case, you see. Once installed, the manual can be found in PDF format in the start menu – if that doesn’t show a minimal budget, then I don’t know what does. On launching the game, you’re given an options box with graphical driver and resolution settings. Sporting a GeForce 4, I thought there might be something which would allow it to display amazing visuals, but to my horror the only resolution the game plays in is 640×480. Are we still living in the Dark Ages? Most people have 1024×768 these days, so a lot of games support that or 800×600. Sorry for the technical jargon here, but seeing that as the maximum resolution doesn’t exactly bode well for the graphics. My monitor rudely demanded that it be set back to something larger, but I regretfully ordered it to continue.

Into the game I go, greeted by some of the worst visuals that I’ve ever seen. Everything bar the players’ faces are pixelated beyond belief. The textures are bland and the courts lacking in detail. The crowd animations have about three frames, making them look like robotic cardboard people. At least the game runs smoothly without any slowdown. The animations are also surprisingly decent and the players faces are just above average. But that’s about it as far as positives go; Perfect Ace basically looks like an early PlayStation game, from ‘way back’ in 1996. Maybe they needed a game to submit and found this one in the back of a cupboard somewhere, that would make sense to me.

The actual gameplay is an amazingly mixed bag. One moment the AI is fairly good, returning shots and playing with some intelligence, and the next it’ll stand stock still while the ball bounces into its groin or rolls right past. In doubles games your teammate will often return most of the balls, leaving you in a false sense of security. A moment later, you’ll watch the ball bounce right at him and hit his leg – it was an easy shot, but he has apparently become paralysed mid-match. Your opponents do the same as well, hitting all the difficult shots but failing to return the ones that are aimed directly at them. Poorly programmed? Oh yes.

The controls don’t make it any easier either. The default ones are far from comfortable, so you have to resort to changing them immediately. Unresponsiveness also dogs Perfect Ace so much that it’s extremely hard to return some shots. You’ll be shouting, “I pressed the button!” at your PC many a time. Although you can perform lob shots, add backspin and so on, you really only need to use the basic shot button. Matches end up as a simple ‘follow the ball and press enter when it comes near you’ affair. It could have been relatively fun, but the unresponsive buttons hold it back too much.

Perfect Ace is seriously lacking in licenses as well. I know this sounds like I’m saying that only licensed games are good, but here it actually hurts. There are no real tournaments, no real players, no real courts, and bizarrely no women. Am I much mistaken, or is one of the most famous sports personalities in the world, Anna Kournikova, female? There is no evident explanation for this lack of the opposite sex either. The only visible shred of endorsement is that three tennis coaches “provided consultancy”. Hmmm.

The audio consists of a few ball sounds, some crowd cheering, a couple of tracks for the menus and a tiny bit of commentary. After each game, the ‘commentator’ gives a one line summary such as “this couple are really playing together well” and that’s it. The audience hardy sounds realistic either and the rest of the in-game audio sounds basic at best. You don’t need your speakers turned on for Perfect Ace, so don’t bother; and go and put your HiFi on instead.

There are other little annoyances in Perfect Ace as well. The main menu is organised so that ‘Exit’ is with ‘Credits’ under the ‘About’ heading. Why? How does that make sense? The ‘player editor’ which allows you to “become a character in the game and create your own dream partners and opponents” simply gives you the ability to change players’ names and that’s it. Multiplayer allows up to 4 people to play, which would be cool online, but alas, it is not. You have to play on one PC, which means that you either need 4 gamepads, or you have to all use the keyboard. That, I would love to see.

To keep you playing, there are three difficulty settings, but to be honest ‘Easy’ and ‘Medium’ are so ridiculously simple that it’s hard to get a fault, even if you try. ‘Hard’ makes the opposition play intelligently, but the unresponsive controls make it even more difficult. There are Tournament and Championship modes offering some lifespan, but they just prolong the agony. If the game was enjoyable it would have had some replay value, but sadly it isn’t.

I might call Perfect Ace an overall mixed bag of good and bad, but there’s simply too much of the latter to justify this. The animations are smooth and it runs fast, but the rest of the graphics are appalling. The AI is sometimes good, but often it just frustrates and the controls are badly set out and are unresponsive. The sound is basic at best and there is little in the way of replayablilty. The presentation is poor and the whole package just feels overly rushed.

Perfect Ace could have been one of those games which some people love and others hate. It could have been a merely average game or it could have been promising but flawed. Sadly it is none of these – it’s just plain bad. The developer should have spent more time and money on fine tuning the AI and improving the graphics than wasting it on player faces and motion capture. I feel guilty for being part of the media who will rip the game apart and cost some people their jobs. To be honest though, how Perfect Ace got through quality control is a mystery. Maybe the PC version is a poor port of another version. For their sake though, I hope the PlayStation 2 version is better.

However this is the PC version and it is abysmal. I don’t like it when reviewers slam a title in their work because the game isn’t often as bad as they make out. Yet Perfect Ace is as flawed as I make out, a shockingly poor attempt that will go down with all the other tennis, fishing and Barbie games that inhabit bargain bins worldwide. With more funding, no deadline and some more effort, it could have been reasonably good. It’s a shame that it wasn’t to be.

Perfect Ace: Pro Tournament Tennis is an awful game. From the moment you look at the packet to the game itself, it reeks of poor design, misguided management and a serious lack of effort. I usually frown on reviews which tear apart games, but Perfect Ace really does deserve it. Then again, you can’t expect much from a game that only requires 19hz, can you?

3 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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