Tennis isn’t that popular of a sport in the United States. It ranks under golf but above bowling and lacrosse, so there’s something positive to say at the very least. Many video games have tried to bring tennis to life in virtual form from Mario to Top Spin. The Hot Shots crew even took up the sport with the PlayStation 2 entry, Hot Shots Tennis. While the game handled the fundamentals well, you could complete the game in an afternoon, and with no online play you were limited to local play with friends, drunk or sober. Now a new challenger has arisen with Hot Shots Tennis: Get A Grip. Does this PSP exclusive feel like real-life tennis, or does it serve a double fault? Tee-hee. I’m using tennis terms. Ain’t I cute?
The main meat and potatoes or main balls and rackets in tennis terms is the Story Mode which pits you on a team of happy-go-lucky players wanting to rid the world of indifferent tennis players, and to revitalize several characters’ love of tennis. How is this done? Simply by flying from area to area righting wrongs and taking down opponents in our happy little game of tennis. Each map has a lead character that you’re trying to get to join your team. Before you can do that you must prowl each map for smaller-role tennis hot shots and compete against them. If you win, not only are you one step closer to facing off against the area’s fledgling tennis champion, bur you also unlock a new piece of wardrobe for your cast of characters.
Much like the Hot Shots Golf series on PSP, you can outfit your collected characters with a bounty of different costumes, hats, hairpieces, and accessories. Don’t like the look of your character? Spice him or her up with a Justin Bieber-like bowl haircut or a ballerina outfit or a baseball jersey or a gorilla costume or a– you get the idea. There’s thousands of different combinations for costumes for your characters. You can even unlock four different spaces to save your favorite designs for a particular character by playing matches as a given player to build his or her loyalty to you. The higher the loyalty, the greater the bonuses that character receives from more costume spaces to faster serves.
Playing Hot Shots Tennis for PSP requires a bit of finesse. You can’t just go flapping your racket around all willy-nilly. Instead you should time your shots well to get the ball where you want it to go on the other opposite side of the court. The game helps out with your timing with various signs that appear above your character’s head when playing. A musical note means you hit your shot perfectly while a red exclamation point bubble means you missed completely. A bunny head means your shot was too early in effect causing the ball to angle to the left (or to the right if you’re left-handed) while a turtle means your shot was too slow causing the ball to angle to the right (again, opposite if you’re left-handed). An empty bubble means your shot was hit straight while a cloud indicates you performed a weak backhand shot. Finally, a red cloud shows that your shot was very late and your ball will curve off-target completely. This is when you probably hit it out of bounds, something that’s very annoying when you’re playing a top-ranked AI player.
There’s plenty of shots in your character’s repertoire to show off when you’re playing against a truly powerful opponent. There’s the simple volley shot which is performed by smacking the ball without letting it bounce once on your side of the court. There’s the rising shot (used with the X button) which means you hit the ball perfectly, and it will fall to the far side of your opponent’s court. The smash shot comes into play when your opponent lobs the ball into the air causing a yellow circle to appear somewhere in your court space. Smash the shot while standing on the circle to unleash a powerful blow that speeds the ball to your opponent like lightning, giving him or her little time to prepare. If a player stays in one place he or she can perform a charge shot, a stronger strike than your average shot that sends the ball flying into your opponent’s court. As you can see there’s plenty of strategy to be had with the various shots. This is what makes Get A Grip so rewarding– outsmarting the AI or a human opponent with a menagerie of menacing shots. And this is without even talking about the most basic shots, the topspin, slice, lob, and drop shot.
There are more than a dozen different tennis courts to test out– each with their own court-type such as hard or soft. You’ll duke it out in the ghetto underneath an overpass home to a roaring metro train. You’ll face off in a tropical resort, an amusement park, a mansion, and even an oriental paradise. Each court booms with personality and charm as do the twelve characters you can unlock. As you defeat the quote/unquote “boss” of a map, he or she will join you on your quest to spread the love of tennis to the world. You can then outfit him as you please with as many accessories and clothes as you see fit. Each character has their own ratings and skill levels. While one character might not do so hot in extended matches as they’ll tire out quickly, another may stink at topspin but be a master in drop shots. Again, there’s strategy as to who to take into tennis battle which is always a good thing in my book.
One problem that may plague gamers with Hot Shots Golf: Get A Grip is actually completing the game. Even in Easy Mode the competition ramps up to such a level that players can easily feel frustrated. The AI can recover nearly every shot, come back from huge deficits and win, and generally make you look like a chump. It takes a lot of patience and effort to take down higher ranked opponents, but once you do it feels very great. Boo-yah.
Besides the single-player modes you can play with another PSP owner via the ad-hoc mode. You can play in singles or doubles action at your leisure. There’s a nary a hint of lag, and the animation and controls are also lag-free. If you’re playing the game alone, however, there’s plenty of options to choose from such as match mode where you can set the parameters of your matches at your leisure. You can even unlock special costumes by beating a player on the master difficulty.
The visuals of Get A Grip are pretty good for PSP standards. There’s some jaggies to be found from a lack of anti-aliasing, but other than things are on the colorful and charming style. Each character animates well, and special effects in the backgrounds of courts are pleasant to look at especially. The voice work isn’t half-bad either, and the soundtrack is quite good, too. Ultimately, Get A Grip doesn’t win an award for best presentation, but it’s far from being the worst.
Overall, Hot Shots Tennis: Get A Grip may be a challenging game, but finally beating a hard computer opponent feels so good. The timing it takes to hit a perfect shot might frustrate beginning players, but I encourage you to stick with it as you’ll most likely grow to love the mechanics of Get A Grip. One of the best tennis games ever, Hot Shots Tennis: Get A Grip serves up an ace in the reviewer’s eyes.