Matchpoint Tennis Championship: Hands-on Preview
Poor old Tennis. It has had a rough run of it in the world of video games lately. Games like AO Tennis 2 gave it a red hot go but fell short, while World Tour Tennis was a failure on every level. In fact, if you take Mario’s crazy, powerup based version of the sport out of the equation, we have to go back to the PS3/360 era for a good tennis game. In strolls Matchpoint Tennis Championship from Aussie developer Torus Games, looking to end the run of sub-par tennis titles and do you know what? It might just do it.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. This isn’t going to set any new graphical standards for the sporting genre. The look of the game is fine at best, rough at worst and the animations can skip and jump around quite a bit. It is clear this is a game that is being made on a limited budget and as a result, some of the presentation elements are a little off. Speaking of the presentation, another area the game suffers is the commentary which is almost non-existent and when it does come in, it is repetitive and dull to the point that it probably would have been better had it been left out of the game entirely.
All that being said, it is clear that the developers have put all their budget and effort into the gameplay itself because it feels great. In fact, I would say the actual moment-to-moment action is the best tennis has been in a video game in a very, very long time. The game works using a slightly different control method than other recent titles, giving players an aiming reticule (which can be turned off if desired) that shows where a well-hit shot will land and is directed using the thumbsticks. This certainty of shot location makes the game feel tighter and fairer. If you miss a shot, it is all on you and not on any RNG elements. This creates a natural strategic interplay between you and your opponent, forcing players to take smart options, use the whole court and make use of every different shot type.
The difficulty tuning is another key feature of Matchpoint. In most sports games that aren’t developed by 2K or EA there is always a problem with the difficulty levels. How things usually work is one difficulty level is way too easy and the next level up is way too hard. That thankfully is not the case here and with the almost chess-like nature of the game, it really encourages players to bump the difficulty level up to where the level of challenge is just right. It is fantastic to see the devs put this much effort in for single players and not just focus on multiplayer being the star of the game.
Matchpoint features all of the modes you would expect from a sports title. There are the standard multiplayer and exhibition matches as well as a fairly solid career mode. The career mode starts with the player’s custom character (male or female) in the mid-200 rankings and aims for them to upgrade their player, improve their ranking and eventually win grand slam titles and reach number 1. It is a little on the bland side of things and could use some balance as far as skill improvements and schedules are concerned but there is more than enough to keep tennis fans happy. I would like to perhaps see some more options in the create-a-character mode as well, but once again I imagine this is a budgetary consideration and not an oversite by the developers.
Despite its obvious money related shortcomings, Matchpoint Tennis Championship is shaping up to be the best game of virtual tennis seen in quite a while. There are still a few weeks for career balance issues and a bit of graphical polish to happen prior to launch and the gameplay is already top-notch. This is looking to be a cracking first entry in what is hopefully a new sports franchise. I think tennis fans are going to be happy with where this one is heading and it will be worth a look in, especially for those with Gamepass.