Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip review
For years, Hot Shots has been known as the go-to series for arcade-style golf. In 2007, Sony tried to expand the Hot Shots name by bringing its brand of goofy, anti-simulation entertainment to the world of tennis. The results were solid, to say the least, but without any sequels released in the following years, it appeared that the new game failed to catch on.
Whatever the case, Sony and developer Clap Hanz have decided to take another swing at the franchise with Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip for PSP. This handheld sequel features a full story mode that will take players across the world as they search for new competitors, Pokemon-style. But instead of running into a bunch of snarky thugs dressed in the flashiest or quirkiest outfit they can find, you’ll battle a series of tennis players who manage to be both quirky and flashy, regardless of what they’re wearing. Unusual attire is the norm, however, and while Ash Ketchum may be stuck in a simple t-shirt and baseball cap, the athletes in this game can be customized to wear whatever the player desires.
Customization is a big part of the Get a Grip experience, but it’s second to talking with NPCs. Luckily, their dialogue is a few steps above anything seen in the Pokemon series – just don’t expect it to be anywhere near the quality of an actual RPG. Many of the character-building scenarios involve a silly occurrence that leads to a tennis match or the hunt for a character that you will eventually face on the court.
This is the least exciting part of the game, and it’s also the shortest. Get a Grip would love to be an RPG, no question. However, it takes a simpler route than most games with role-playing dreams, providing gamers with just enough familiar action to get them involved, but not enough to make them form a lifelong attachment to any of the characters.
In the long run, that’s probably a good thing. Though it might take players a good 30 minutes to grasp the deceptively simple controls, it won’t take anyone more than a second to realize that the gameplay is the star of the show.
Despite being closer to an arcade-style tennis game than a full-fledged simulator, Get a Grip is fairly deep. One of the key differences between this game and other arcade titles (Virtua Tennis, Mario Tennis, etc.) is that you can’t swing at everything and expect to return the ball.
This presented me with quite the challenge, as I am used to playing it safe and typically swing my racket sooner rather than later. That may not be the best strategy in the world, but it works – Virtua Tennis is deep, but it isn’t necessarily the smartest tennis franchise on the market. Mario Tennis is fun, but I wouldn’t call it smart either. In this regard, Get a Grip is a bit more skillful than both of those games, requiring players to carefully watch the ball as it bounces over the net. After my 50 or 60th mess up (a time I like to refer to as “the ugly years”), I began to realize that I needed to line up my player with the ball and wait for it to be within a realistic range – not a few feet away – before taking a swing. It all seems so simple now, but at the time, I was losing my grip. (Hmm, suddenly the title makes sense.)
Get a Grip’s mechanics are manageable. Players can easily aim their shots by pressing the D-pad (or the thumb pad) toward the left or right side of the court. Timing is an essential factor, as you’ll have the chance to swing harder and faster if you return the ball at just the right moment. This is particularly true when your opponent screws up – if he or she sends the ball flying through the air like a wayward bird, you will have the perfect opportunity to execute a jump shot that returns the ball like a heat-seeking missile.
If there’s one area where the mechanics come up short, it’s in the way Get a Grip handles its AI teammates. They can’t be counted on for anything – don’t expect them to pick up the slack when you fail. Don’t expect them to properly guard one side of the court. And if you wish to work overtime and command the whole court yourself, expect your teammate to get in the way and screw up the whole thing.
I know that programming a teammate couldn’t be easy, especially when you consider that no developer has been able to get it right. But it’s really hard to enjoy a doubles match when your teammate is more of a challenge than the AI-controlled players you’re competing against.
Teammate issues aside, Get a Grip is an entertaining tennis game that PSP owners will thoroughly enjoy. It doesn’t have all the mini-games of Virtua Tennis, the lovable characters of Mario Tennis, or contain any groundbreaking content that takes it above and beyond the tennis games you’ve played before. But its gameplay is simple and addictive, and when it comes to this genre, that is really all you need.