by Cody Medellin on July 12, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT
Matchpoint - Tennis Championships is a brand-new simulation title that delivers authentic gameplay and an immersive tennis experience.
Unless you were lucky enough to get some of the older tennis titles or are into emulation, tennis fans looking for a video game interpretation of the sport on the PC have only a scant few options at their disposal. The latest iterations of Tennis World Tour and AO Tennis were developed and made by the same companies, but their approach is both wildly complicated and, in the case of Tennis World Tour, introduces elements that feel unnecessary. Tennis Elbow 4 is an indie release that's getting good buzz based on the player reviews, but it remains an early access title for now. Matchpoint: Tennis Champions is the latest title to present its take on the sport, and even though it seems to nail down the basics, it doesn't try to do anything more than that.
The base mechanics go beyond moving into position and smashing any button to hit the incoming ball. The face buttons deliver different swing types, while there are two modifier buttons that give you things like drop shots. Tapping any of these buttons gives you a quick hit of the ball, but holding down the button modifies how much strength you'll put behind that swing; it's measured by a circle and how much you're filling it in. By default, your swings aim for the ball going directly in front of you, but you can manually aim where your shot goes as you hit any of the swing buttons.
Compared to tennis titles from a few generations ago, the system seems more complicated. There's more to pay attention to, as you have to worry about your player positioning and having a very limited aiming window to ensure that your volley isn't going to make the ball go out of bounds. When you compare it to some of the big-budget modern tennis titles, it's much simpler. The serve meter uses the same mechanics as the shot strength circle, so there's nothing new to learn. There are also no modifiers in place, so you aren't wondering if someone will pull a card on you to deliver a power shot. The game makes character movement feel more intelligent, so it's extremely rare that your player would stand by and let a ball sail away instead of making an attempt at a swing. You'll make more impossible shots at the expense of putting you way open for a volley that you can't return, since the game prioritizes hits versus letting you whiff. It's arcade-like in that regard, but compared to the other tennis games that are out, there's a better chance of learning this simpler system much faster.
The main mode is the career, where your objective is to go from the bottom all the way to #1 in the world rankings. Before you do any of that, you'll be asked to create your player, and it is here that you'll get a preview of the overall scope, as the character creation system is quite limited. The amount of clothes you can change out is in the single digits, but you can customize color combinations. You can change general hairstyles and faces, but you can't get granular with things like adjusting lips or eyebrows or noses. Those face and hairstyle selections are also limited, as is the fact that the only other thing you can change out is the type of swing that you can perform. It's a limited enough selection that using it to create pros that aren't in the game feels like a near-impossible task.
After creating your character, you'll immediately be sent to the final set of a match. Win or lose, you'll get your initial ranking and start the journey to the top, with a few options at your disposal. You can participate in a minigame to boost some stats, like returning volleys to hit certain target spots or trying for a long rally. You can play an exhibition match to get new gear to boost your stats. You can also enter a tournament for even bigger rewards. Those last two activities are paramount to increasing your world rank, but losses also mean that your rank can decrease.
The game lacks some side activities seen in most sports games, like participating in press conferences or dealing with social media, so it is more focused on the actual sport versus the ancillary stuff associated with it. The limited number of ways to progress and level up do make the career mode feel like a large grind. Unless you get lucky in tournaments or find a nice string of exhibition match opponents with lower stats than you, progression can feel rather slow, as your improvements are rarely any bigger than one unit in one or two categories. The result is a career mode that is quite long and feels very long, making it something you'll need to conquer in small bursts over time; long sessions can be tiresome.
Go beyond the campaign, and you'll find that the rest of the title is rather bare-bones. Quick Play has 16 players to choose from if you don't count the ones you create, but that seems rather paltry when compared to AO Tennis 2's 25 players and 46 from Tennis World Tour 2. If you're hoping for doubles matches, you can think again since the only available match option is for singles play. The stadium count is decent, but laying out exactly what this mode offers up makes it feel small overall. Aside from Quick Play, you can play all of the skill-based minigames from the career mode on their own, but that's as far as offline modes go.
Online play is also pretty basic in terms of play options. Ranked play, quick and casual play, and creating your own private rooms are all expected at this point. The online performance is pretty solid, considering that we've only had a small pool of players reviewing the game, but there is some potential to have a good-sized online community thanks to the cross-play features.
As far as the presentation goes, it's fine enough. The pro tennis players look quite good, while the created characters can be rather hit-and-miss depending on the random combinations chosen as your opponents in the career mode. They also animate quite nicely, even when they start sprinting faster than expected to go for those near-impossible shots. The courts and the crowd look fine, but their animations can look rough. The frame rate holds steady, so there are no unexpected drops in the game. As for the audio, the effects and voice work are good, while the music is good even if it doesn't do much to make itself memorable outside of the game.
Matchpoint: Tennis Championships manages to release a game that presents an easy yet technical approach to the sport. It results in a game where you can make more mistakes than the more arcade-like approach of some older, well regarded tennis titles, but it results in a game that feels more responsive compared to most of its contemporaries. Yet it doesn't manage to do anything beyond that due to a lack of players and modes, so cross-play only benefits those who want a no-frills 1v1 experience. It's fine overall, but no one would blame you if you skipped this one in the hopes that someone can transplant the gameplay into a title with more to do.
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