Perfect Ace: Pro Tournament Tennis Review

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Publisher: Oxygen Interactive
Developer: Aqua Pacific

Platforms: PC and PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PC

Looking to reverse the trend that tennis games never gain popularity, Oxygen Interactive presents Perfect Ace: Pro Tournament Tennis: a game that tries to capture the excitement of international tennis. By way of realism and a wide array of arenas in which to play, Perfect Ace tries to present a videogame that brings the fist-pumping excitement of real-life tennis to the virtual world.

Solomon Dirigible

It seems tennis simulation games are rarely overwhelming successes. This is ironic, considering the origins of videogames and, specifically, that the real-life game of tennis most closely resembles Pong – the first successful commercial home videogame. Still, with the possible exception of the N64's Mario Tennis, few, if any tennis games have garnered much popular attention. Oxygen Interactive presents a game which aims to offer a realistic interpretation of the sport in Perfect Ace: Pro Tournament Tennis.

The first thing you notice when you put in the disc is the utter dearth of gameplay options. Having grown accustomed to the franchise/dynasty/career modes that appear in nearly all sports videogames nowadays, one is instantly dismayed that there is no corresponding in-depth mode available in Perfect Ace. Instead, you have the rather limited options of playing a single match, tournament, or championship. Each of sixteen countries offers two players apiece. Ostensibly, each player has his own strengths and weaknesses, including strong serve power, outstanding net game, and powerful baseline strokes. If you play a single match, you first select a player and opponent from among the thirty-two. You will then be asked to select from a number of venues, which constitute one of the game's few positives. You can choose to play on the lawn courts of the British Isles, the Mediterranean clay courts, or even the indoor carpeted courts often seen in Davis Cup matches. The wide selection of playing surfaces is a positive, but it is starkly offset by the fact that the playing surface has little effect on how an individual match will be played.

As anyone who is even mildly familiar with the sport of tennis can attest, there is a reason that some players can reach the finals of the French Open or Wimbledon and struggle in the U.S. Open. Vastly different play styles are required to achieve success on the clay courts of the French Open, the grass courts of Wimbledon, or the hard courts of the U.S. Open. When you play a match in Perfect Ace, the ball will bounce the same way regardless of which surface you select. While the court may look like clay or carpet, it won't make any difference to the ball's behavior or the style of play you adopt.

Similarly (and sadly), the advertised strengths and weakness of the players seem absent during a match. The notable exception is the serve. A player with a strong serve will blast the ball much faster than a player with a weaker serve. Unfortunately, there is little difference between players in their ground strokes or net game. Aside from appearance, choosing one player over another makes little difference.

As far as the gameplay itself is concerned, the controls are shaky, at best. One button is a straightforward top-spin shot, another is used for a slice, and a third for a lob. Supposedly, the control stick (in combination with the shot button) will allow you to direct where the shot is aimed, but it often ends up that you move the player when trying to aim your shot, or aim your shot when trying to move your player. It is also surprising that there is no button to try a drop shot – the soft backspin shot designed to just clear the net and land with little momentum. You can aim a slice to the near-court, which sometimes accomplishes the same thing, but the absence of one of the most common shots in tennis from the game is striking.

When you do want to move your player, the response is sluggish. Often, the player will seem to move to the desired spot, only to continue moving and overrun the ball after you release the control pad. If you are able to get your player where you want him, you'll have to time your shot with the arrival of the ball, which is often difficult to do. The back-swing begins automatically, and when you click the button determines how well you strike the ball. Overall, the controls are too slow to respond and lack the smoothness necessary to make the gamer feel like he's controlling the action.

The ambience created by the environments is also lacking. The crowds look two-dimensional and paper-thin, and the noise made by the fans sounds impressive only in comparison to the inadequate commentary. You almost feel that it would have been better in the long run for the game to eschew commentary altogether. The commentator offers only occasional sound bytes, and only every few points. It wouldn't be that bad, except that the few hackneyed phrases are often completely unrelated to the point that has just been played. For example, after winning a point when your opponent hits a ball out of bounds, you may be rewarded by a close-up of both players' reactions accompanied by the announcer quipping, "Oh, the power of that shot!" This makes sense if your player smokes a deep smash past your helpless opponent, but clearly not in the scenario above. Perfect Ace does a very poor job of using your surroundings to enhance the experience of playing the game.

Overall, though, the negative that looms largest for Perfect Ace is that it's extraordinarily easy. There are a number of difficulty settings, as well as speeds, at which the game can be played, but even if you start the game at the most difficult setting, and turn the game speed to the fastest setting, you'll master the controls (to the extent they are consistent enough to be mastered, anyway) within half an hour and blow away your competition with ease. While it's an ego boost to be able to dispatch opponents so easily, it doesn't make you want to come back and play the game again. Once you've gone through a tournament and beaten opponent after opponent, there's little incentive to try your hand at another one. A combination of greater difficulty, to create a sense of accomplishment, and a career mode would have helped Perfect Ace immensely.

Graphically, the players are well designed and look true-to-life. The motion captured movements look pretty good for the most part, but at times are choppy and lack the fluid motion you'd hope for. After every point there's a cut to see the players' reactions, and when these cut scenes happen, parts of the player often disappear. For example, if your player hits a ball too long, and loses a point, the camera might zoom in on him as he raises his hands in exasperation, and you might notice that his head becomes transparent, and that the background is visible. While it's annoying for this sort of thing to happen in the middle of the action, it's almost unforgivable for it to happen in a cut scene, which is essentially just recorded footage. Though a minor point, it's indicative of the unfinished feeling of Perfect Ace.

Ultimately, the many negatives make Perfect Ace impossible to recommend. Absolute diehard tennis fans might be tempted by the game's claim of a realistic tennis experience, but the ease with which matches can be won, and the lack of an authentic environment should tell them to steer clear. Perfect Ace is not without potential, but until the designers add a career mode and correct the graphical and audio shortcomings, it won't reverse the trend of unpopular tennis games.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 8, 2003 8:03 PM.

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