Tennis for One

Tennis game’s single player modes, such as in Rockstar’s Table Tennis and Sega Superstar Tennis, have been letting me down lately.  Matches become tedious and occasionally super hard.  To me, shot assistance is the central issue.

Shot assistance comes means automatic position and timing “lock-on” when pressing the shot button as the ball inbounds.  So long as you’re reasonably close to the trajectory, the character gets in position and hits at the appropriate time.  I liked this at first, as it makes huge rallies happen right away, but it undermines the skill involved in this basic action.

Without shot timing, smaller things such as movement and shot selection become all-important.  This is OK in multiplayer, but the AI can do these things trivially:  if the AI can get to the ball, it will.  Only pulling the AI out of the position will consistently work.  The other way to win, unfortunately, is to continue a rally until the AI completely gaffes and lets by a free point.  These points feel really frustrating, like I’m just grinding away at each match.

The structure of the single player modes in these games contributes to the tedium.  Much of the content takes the form of arbitrary “tournaments” where win streaks are all that matter.  Especially in Rockstar’s Table Tennis, a tournament can take over an hour and losing a match makes all that time feel wasted.  I did enjoy some of the minigames and bonus content outside the tournaments, but it doesn’t replace a good single player progression.

These games, like other casual sports games I’ve played, seem to exist in a deadzone between good party games and good single player games.  They are neither as ubiquitous as Wii Tennis nor as skill-intensive as Virtual Tennis.  Ultimately, my dissatisfaction with the single player modes made the games feel incomplete.  I picked them both up used, and I can recommend them for that price.