Sega Superstars Tennis
It used to be that I’d await the release of each and every one of Sega’s games with greater delusions than a season ticket holder for the Cubs. Then out of nowhere, Sega went from one of the top developers out there to a third tier support beam for their former competitors. In this time span, they’ve done the unthinkable. They’ve taken some of the greatest franchises and brutally beat them into the ground. Of course the main concern is Sonic, as it has been for some time. In a single generation, the coolest, most badass gaming character out there has seemingly become irrelevant. Sonic was never much for large scale side projects and when he did get involved, the game’s shelf life had a lateral trajectory from the top of the shelf to the bottom of the bargain bin.
This trend began picking up steam when Nintendo realized that it was no longer necessary to make full-fledged Mario games. People became transfixed by a character’s name. Why would I possibly need a new Donkey Kong game when there’s already two new ones that use bongos for controllers? That’s all anyone really ever wanted in a DK game anyway, right? I’m not saying those games are devoid of value, I’m just begging the question, when’s the last time you’ve enjoyed what originally brought DK, or any other irreverent series to the forefront?
Here’s where Sega Superstar Tennis comes in. Even though there are no bongo controllers and there’s little innovation regarding the Tennis portion of the game, it is still able to renovate the increasingly bland sub-genre that is “mascot sports”. It does this by putting some great source material to task. Many Sega games are recreated in the Planet Superstar mode, where you’ll have to beat objective-after-objective in peculiar mini-game scenarios. The objectives range from mind numbingly boring and easy to crazy, almost impossible feats.
A Jet Grind Radio course has you collecting spray cans and hitting projectile tennis balls onto the matching colored outline, on the other side of the court. Mini-games on the Jet Set Radio Future court involve collecting erasers and undoing the street-graffiti in order to pass. It’s as though Sega is reading my mind and is apologizing for backtracking. Okay, so maybe that’s a stretch. In some Sonic levels, the objective doesn’t have anything to do with tennis really, you just have to avoid giant electrodes that are launched at you by ever-multiplying robots. The most satisfying scenario comes as a surprise in the form of Puyo Puyo Pop, which is unlocked early in the early stages of the game. In Puyo Puyo Pop, you’re hitting rebounding tennis balls off of Puyo blocks, which can be done in combos. Not only does this familiarize players with the game mechanics and give them a preliminary idea of how to direct the ball accurately from their racket, but it also provides a genuinely fun concept that’s a lot more fun to play than the ordinary tennis matches, which are a bore.
Before I give you the wrong idea by heaping too much praise on the many gifts of nostalgia, maybe we should take a look at the game’s core. It’s what you’ll wind up doing the majority of the time anyway (in order to unlock some of the stellar courts that are placed quite a bit later in the game. The main problem is, no strategy is necessary for playing SST, and therefore any strategy is the best strategy. Outsmarting an opponent requires standing right in front of the net and sending them from the right side of the screen, to the left side of the screen, over and over. As mentioned before, it’s a mascot sports game. You shouldn’t really expect a high level of precision tennis, unless it were developed by the people who brought you the spectacular Virtua Tennis 3, which it is.
There are sixteen players you can choose from (8 of which are unlockable). Obviously a disproportionate amount of Sonic characters had to be packed in, just because every other Sega franchise happens to be long decayed upon its death bed. Some unpredictable inclusions include a couple monkey ball characters. I liked them better when they were inside of their balls – if I would’ve known they could roam freely it would’ve made those games a hell of a lot easier and could have also stopped the speculation about Sega’s mistreatment of wild animals in its tracks.
What primarily stands out as the biggest weakness in Sega Superstar Tennis is probably the characters. Sega has whittled away so much of what used to drive myself and others to abnormal lengths. All of the reasons why their install base of fans were once hardcore gamers has blown away with the wind and now all that’s left is a depressed camp of Sonic color variations. The two stand out characters for me are Beat and Gum of Jet Grind Radio fame. That was reason enough for me to own Sega Superstar Tennis.
Even as someone who will make strange proclamations about JGR being the greatest game of all time, I understand that the series is dormant for now. So without relevant characters, we’re left with a tennis game that’s dysfunctional and a list of superb mini-games. For the low price you’ll be able to find it at, Sega Superstars Tennis is at the very least worth the nostalgia ridden torment it will cause you.