In a somewhat surprising twist, Nacon is bringing back Tennis World Tour with a brand new sequel. Versions for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC are out now, and a Switch version is expected for next month. We took a look at the PlayStation 4 edition.
Those who remember the launch of the original Tennis World Tour back in 2018 will probably remember how it felt a bit undercooked at launch. What a lot of people don’t realize is that, post-launch, the game received its fair share of patches that added several layers of gameplay polish to the experience, ultimately creating a game that was well worth playing. Sadly, most people had lost interest at that point.
Considering that poor showing, I was surprised that Tennis World Tour is making a comeback this year. I was also surprised that Nacon didn’t build upon the improvements that had been made in the first game, but handed development duties over to Big Ant Studios instead. That is no way meant as an insult to the studio (that developed AO Tennis 1 and 2 as well), but it did mean starting from scratch again and getting two tennis games from the same studio in the same year. To add to the confusion, the publisher is the same as well, since AO Tennis 2 was released by Nacon under their former Big Ben name.
Obviously that’s going to invite people to compare the two, and while AO Tennis 2 felt like an expanded upon version of the first AO Tennis game it feels like Tennis World Tour 2 is a bit more stripped down. This can easily be seen in the career mode. with very basic customization options in the visual sense and even less wiggle room when it comes to your playing style and abilities.
Diving into the actual gameplay after you create a character is an “in at the deep end” kind of experience, one where you learn many of the game’s nuances by practicing while engaging in actual matches. Having played my fair share of tennis game I quickly became accustomed to Tennis World Tour 2’s controls, but a better learning curve with tutorials would have certainly been welcome. I knew about the sensitive nature of timing a shot and positioning a player in the right spot, but there’s definitely room for frustration here for people just diving in and skipping ‘tennis school’.
The stat-boosting cards of the original make a comeback here, and you gradually unlock more cards and slots as you go. Switching them around based on the surface and opponents you’re playing is a decent enough idea on paper, but the feature always ends up feeling a tad out of place in a game that emphasizes precise timing and subtle controls rather than something out of an arcade or even mobile experience.
For a franchise that originally started as a “made by Top Spin developers” take on the sport, Tennis World Tour 2 is a visually disappointing game, with a lack of details in players’ faces and often less-than-fluid animations. Top Spin was gorgeous when it was released, and offered a more serious alternative to Virtua Tennis, and both flourished for a while. Tennis World Tour 2, much like AO Tennis 2, feels like it wouldn’t look out of place in the previous console generation. It’d look quite good there, but since we’re about to enter a new generation it feels less than impressive this time.
Part of that has to do with licenses, because even though games like FIFA and PES have dozens (if not hundreds) of players that look the part the roster of recognizable players in Tennis World Tour 2 is small. The same is true for venues, and both players and venues have a selection of them tucked away in the shape of DLC content. This is a shame, because tennis fans will be quick to lament “what and who’s missing” unless they’re just happy to play Nadal vs Federer matches. There are plenty more licensed players, but with 38 of them spread across two genders you’ll be tackling an army of unknowns on the rankings for a while.
If you’re already accustomed to the control scheme because you played recent tennis games, then you’ll find Tennis World Tour a perfectly serviceable take on the sport – and playing together locally is a ton of fun, especially when playing doubles (yes, online multiplayer is also supported). It’s in need of a bit of polish in the gameplay department (with controls sometimes being overly sensitive and not sensitive enough a minute later), but Big Ant has a great track record in this department. I’m just afraid that, with so-so presentation and limitations in terms of licenses, “perfectly serviceable” is all it’s going to be.