Having taken control of the Hot Shot Golf franchise from Camelot in 1999, developer Clap Hanz proceeded to create five different instalments in the series – six, in fact, if you include the Japan exclusive Hot Shots Golf Online, which was used as a means to help flog the PS2’s Network Adapter domestically.
Thus, in 2006, it turned its attention to an alternative sport: tennis. Hot Shots Tennis – or Everybody’s Tennis in Europe – retains the same light-hearted arcade action that fans of the golf games will be familiar with, but sees you participating in singles and doubles matches on colourful courts all around the globe. It’s a fast and frenetic take on the racket-based sport, but a lightweight package that was later bettered by its PSP successor, Hot Shots Tennis Portable.
The gameplay is extremely simplistic, and divided between three main shot buttons: flat, slice, and lob. Rather than charge up your strokes like in other arcade tennis games, you simply need to time your swing; the hare and tortoise system from Hot Shots Golf returns, and the closer you are to the sweet spot the more accurate your shot will be.
There is some added depth to the gameplay to discover: drop shots can be performed by perfectly timing a slice just over the net, and of course you can smash wayward returns from your opponents by positioning your player in the right spot. The controls feel extremely responsive, as you’d expect, with players responding exactly to your each and every input.
As you’d expect from Clap Hanz, the various characters – a couple of whom return from Hot Shots Golf – are beautifully animated and brimming with personality. One ten-year-old break dancer runs around the baseline with his arms opened wide, and somersaults as he comes up for a smash; recurring Easter egg Suzuki, meanwhile, looks largely bemused by his appearance at all. It’s good fun.
The problem, then, is that there’s really not enough complexity to the gameplay to keep it interesting over long sessions. On the lower difficulties, you’ll be whipping the ball past your opponents with ease; later on, it all becomes a battle of attrition, with any tiny error being punished pretty much immediately. Matches become less about playing good tennis, and more about merely being able to react.
The package is extremely lightweight, too. While there is a lot to unlock – a total of 14 characters and 11 tennis courts – all you really need to do is complete one-off matches to obtain them. This was massively expanded upon in the aforementioned Hot Shots Tennis Portable, which was effectively presented as a rudimentary RPG, and is ultimately the better game.
There is a training mode, which is structured as a series of mini-games, and of course you can play with up to three other friends in doubles matches – but outside of some neat stat tracking, that’s basically all the package has to offer. There’s a ton of detail invested into each court layout, but once the initial novelty wears off, there’s really not much to hold your attention here.
As an accessible, arcade sports game, Hot Shots Tennis is a winner. However, the game is basic and bare bones, and was ultimately surpassed by its superior PSP successor, Hot Shots Tennis Portable. If you go in with the right expectations then you won’t be disappointed with the fare on offer here – but for Clap Hanz, it’s a clear case of its second service of tennis being the true ace.