Let’s NOT Talk About Pocket Tennis Color

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People, I like tennis and I like tennis games and in a weird way I like this game because it’s a perfectly perfunctory tennis game but good lord are you about to be bombarded with reasons as to why tennis DOES NOT WORK ON A VERY SMALL SCREEN.

Oi yoi yoi… tennis on a handheld. Who’d have thought that that was going to work? Well, apparently SNK did. Apparently Nintendo at one point did. Apparently Sega at one point did but do you know what all of those handheld tennis games have in common?

They suuuuuuuck.

Going for the jugular this early on in my review means that you know it’s true, Milli Vanilli. Although the Nintendo ones haven’t been AWFUL, they certainly don’t have any more of an experience to them than Pong but with better graphics.

I mean… that’s kinda what any tennis game is but at least in console tennis games, you could at least slice or topspin or flatten the ball. On the handhelds, you were restricted by the number of buttons on the handheld itself… usually a meagre two.

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However, there are a multitude of sins that Pocket Tennis Color unfortunately suffers from but it’s main one being that in reality… it’s not all that much fun to play.

There are plenty of things going for it though and let’s at least be cheerful for a moment. I mean, I’m talking about tennis here and I love tennis so I do at least have to make it seem like I know what I’m talking about considering I’m such a “misinformed casual”.

Yeah, I know you called me that on twitter because I bashed a game you liked. Learn to take an opinion and learn to understand that not everyone likes the same things as you do. That’s why it’s called an opinion. Also, next time you DO want to call me a misinformed casual, maybe you could actually… y’know… try saying it to me. Tit.

Irony is lost on me. Never mind.

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First of all, the graphics are by no means bad at all. If anything, they’re kinda charming and quirky in a way. They have tried to throw in enough frames of animation for the characters and they’ve attempted to be unusual with the choices of court locations, which is commendable. I also quite like the effect of the screen changing colour as the match goes on to signify the time taken in a match. I noticed that this always happens after a specific number of points played, rather than actual time taken but an effect is an effect and it’s not game-changing or anything, but it is certainly welcome.

For the most parts, characters included in the game, each of whom are just random casual tennis players made up for the game, as was the thing back in the nineties, are characterised reasonably well. I think this could have been played out a little bit more, particularly with some of the female players, but you have the lazy-looking space cadet player, the arrogant ‘well of course I was gonna win, duh’ player, the motherly figure who wears an apron on court, and the beefy-looking power player avec moustache.

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There are also a couple of secret characters to unlock, including an amorphous blob character who hits the ball for six but can barely move around the court. They are sort of the boss characters, both of them, but they’re very similar in style to each other so they’re almost the same character… and thus the problems begin.

To be honest… there might be difference between a few characters but if anything, they are incredibly slight when playing. Two of the girls have amazing speed and no power and varying levels of defence. Two of the boys have amazing power but low speed and varying defence. Two of the characters have middling stats. The other two are also very similar… it’s… limiting the actual choices you have as a player.

And then when you play as these characters? Save for the power blokes, the rest all melt into one character – there is very little to separate them stats-wise and gameplay-wise. They blend so seamlessly, it’s like couture. But imagine this game floating down the runway, turn the fans on, and the fucking substance disintegrates. I’m fairly sure this game trips over itself on the runway and then falls off the edge of it.

This is an analogy that sounded better in my head!

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So the main structure of the single player game is to take part in lots and lots of tournaments. There’s no actual story or anything and there’s no ranking list… there’s… kinda not much point or substance behind the game. It sorta dies on its ass very quickly when you get started.

However, I will give this game a little bit more credit as there are lots of different trophies to win, some of which you could win and then never win again because of when you play the game. Depending on the console’s internal clock and the calendar, the trophies are named after the Zodiac signs. This is actually a really neat little idea as there is at least the concept of promoting longevity behind it. If you want them all, you’ll essentially have to play once every month for the next twelve months – which is actually a pretty good concept. I’m surprised this sort of thing doesn’t happen more frequently with games nowadays.

Although the last time anyone released a tennis game on modern consoles…? Anyone?

Me neither.

2012.

5 YEARS AGO.

Only one on PS4? A HD remaster of Everybody’s Tennis for the PS2. Released in 2007.

REPRESENTATION, PEOPLE. TENNIS. COME ON.

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Essentially, the major problems start with the way the game is presented. Everything feels very plain and ordinary to begin with, there are very few options to play with and despite the graphics being pretty good all in all, they aren’t stellar and there are only five courts to play on. Most people might think this is BRILLIANT given that some games don’t even have courts as such… I mean… let’s be honest, Gameboy tennis games did NOT have different courts, even if they say they did.

At least we have the jungle, a downtown court, a tatami room, a canyon, and your regular tennis court complete with people actually… y’know… watching.

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The problem with the canyon court is that it ends up acting like a squash court because you are literally playing in the middle of a canyon. Imagine a single-player version of Padel (a tennis and squash hybrid game played in enclosed see-through perspex courts – google it, it’s phenomenal) and that’s what you get. The canyon doesn’t sit right in a tennis game because it just looks wrong.

But then again, the proportions of the courts feel wrong in general, they’re way too short and much too wide, which was the problem with the courts in Smash Court Tennis for the PS1.

What’s even worse? THE CAMERA FUCKING MOVES ALL OVER THE PLACE.

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The screen pans up and down and left and right following the ball because the courts are too big and the console’s screen is too small… BECAUSE TENNIS DOES NOT WORK ON A HANDHELD.

Top Ranking Tennis on the Gameboy worked in that the court fit on the screen. Yes it made the game harder to see but YOU COULD SEE WHAT WAS HAPPENING AND WHERE YOUR OPPONENT WAS STANDING.

Here?

No.

You have to second guess yourself because you can’t see where your opponent is standing. As such, rallies take forever because you can’t see where to hit the ball to wrong foot your opponent. It is a cardinal sin that this happens because points in tennis should not just be a billion shot rallies one after the other. But you can’t see anything to react to or strategise against. It’s absolutely mindbogglingly boring because of it.

And far be it from me to say that someone I knew once played the game years ago on holiday with us and they got motion sickness from the camera all around the place so be warned.

He said it was the pasta but we all knew it was the game.

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The game also tries to lull you into playing with some chirpy sounding tunes playing all around the court. It’s nothing special, it’s nothing nice. It’s just there. It adds nothing to experience except drowning out the plip plip noise of your racket hitting the ball and the strange splashing noise that I believe it meant to be applause. Someone on the development team was clearly a Pisces.

ZODIAC JOKE.

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And no, don’t ask me why there are fish painted on the floor here. I’ve asked myself that a dozen times and I assume it’s the fishy development man at it again, I dunno. Let’s go with that, who the fucks knows in this game?

The 2-player experience is one that I have only experienced once before and I vaguely remember it suffering from all of the same problems in that you have no idea where your opponent is at all and the game itself gradually devolved into a rally of volleys at the net until one of forgot to press the button on time – and that is one of the worst tennis experiences I have ever had (save for the time one of my uni flatmates literally stormed out of the room when we were playing 4-player Smash Court 2 but he did suck and we were a bit mean to him… ish…).

Neither of us enjoyed it. It was bad enough having to purchase the bloody link cable to play it but realising that the experience was just as unsatisfying as the main game… yeah. We should have known better.

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Now, as much as I’m being mean to this game, I did preface my entire review by stating that this game was perfunctory and to be fair to it, it is. It looks OK, sounds reasonable and it is basically doing what a tennis game should do and be… a tennis game. The controls themselves are also absolutely fine and they’re responsive enough and the ball will go where you want it to because it’s been coded to do so – diplomacy for the win.

But the experience as a whole, given the shoddy presentation, the wonky vomit-inducing camera and the fact that every single character blurs into one for the most part is a pretty dour experience all in all.

What an absolute racket.

And I won’t apologise that pun. It was ace.

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