Family Tennis 3D review
Serving an Inexpensive Hit
Oh, right, a fairly cheap game sitting around on the eShop that might just be there to say "hi, I'm Mario Tennis on a really tight budget and without the Nintendo stars, please take pity". But hey, £4.49 isn't a whole lot of money and I figured it might be worth a few minutes of entertainment and this is going to end badly is what I thought. As it turns out, it didn't end badly. Granted, the small budget feeling is pretty evident, but for less than a fiver the game's given me a lot of enjoyment.
So let's not waste anymore time and get into what the game offers. It's tennis, just in case the game title was too vague for you. You pick one of eight members of a family, such as a mother, father or auntie. Each character has differing stats such as power or speed depending on what you want, although it's entirely possible to challenge the hardest settings with anyone so that's nice. Then you play a match on one of six courts. As well as different aesthetics each court also offers differing rates of ball speed and bounce. That's more or less what you'd expect from court selection in a tennis game, although the ice court deserves a special mention since you suffer from a distinct lack of traction for it, which is a more obvious difference than the others have.
Gameplay is very simple. You move around your character using the analogue nub, which also determines the direction you aim your shot in. Handy markers give an indication of where the ball is going so you know where you need to be going. You have three main types of hits access via the face buttons. For all intents and purposes you'll use the topspin most often as it tends to be the most useful, but you also have access to slice and lob shots. In addition there are a few other options like turning a slice into a dropshot or excellent positioning can let you strike with a fast overhead smash. What I like about these is that there are situations where they are useful, whereas the last time I played a Mario Tennis game some options like the lob were just completely useless 100% of the time. If working between the three buttons is too complicated then fear not, as you can tap an option in the settings where you can just use a single button and let the computer decide which shot is the best for any given situation, which once again ends up with a major bias to the topspin shot. Each character also has access to a special shot, which requires you to build up energy through successful hits. These range from swinging a giant tennis racket for a stylish kind of drop shot to creating illusionary balls. I like how these moves add to the game without completely overpowering the normal tennis gameplay.
Movement around the court is pretty solid. Your characters responds well and will dive for the ball if they're just out of reach for a normal shot. Placement plays a key role as well in determining how you return the ball. Position well and your shots will be powerful, but bad placement can result in weak shots or even shots that fly out of play or into the net. It feels less safe than I'm used to, which is good and made me consider where I was on the court a lot more. Serving seemed to be a lot harder to screw up though. I had to actively work on getting a fault, so playing normally every serve reached the other side of the court easily. There is a jump button as well, although I feel that this offers nothing substantial to the game. Well, there's a cool feeling when you leap up and smash the ball back from midair, but more often than not it's actually quite hard to judge positioning with a jump and you gain no real advantage doing it. This leads to it being more a flashy move than anything.
There's a quick play option for those pressed for time, which immediately throws you into a singles 2 games 1 set match with characters and court already selected. If you want to set options yourself though then their is the exhibition mode where you can pick between singles or doubles, your character (and your partner in doubles), court and the set and game setup. Sadly it's not actually possible to pick your opponents here who are instead randomly selected. This seems like a strange omission but otherwise you have lots of options for setting up play. There's also a tournament mode where you play a series of matches where you can progress up through the game's three difficulty settings. It's a little disappointing that the reward for clearing the hardest tournament is a simple graphic image and soundbite. I was expecting some more.
Then there are the three minigames that put a spin on the normal tennis. Survival is the less novel of three, which simply pits you in a never ending stream of single game matches until you lose either a game or interest. Another has you earning points for each time you successfully hit the ball, with the player losing the points they had built up if the ball gets past them. Roulette is the most interesting as it paints the court with changing squares with point values that give points when the ball hits them. Like before, players lose the points they had gained in a rally if they lose the ball. The point targets for these modes can't be changed, which is a shame, but they are interesting diversions.
So you're probably wondering what the game's multiplayer is like now that you've read all about the single player content. I'd tell you... if the game had a multiplayer. Granted for less than £5 I wasn't expecting online capabilities, but it's very strange that the game lacks even basic local play.
For the visuals it's very Japanese. The characters are clearly stylised in that manner and they've done a pretty good job with them, producing some cool designs to reflect each member of the family well. The animation for them is good too for their running, hitting and diving around the court. I also liked the general design concepts of the courts, from the more mundane grass court to the more fanciful court carved into the surface of the moon. Things do look good from the usual high camera angle the game plays from, but problems do arise when it zooms in for replays or showcasing the power shots. At these times the low resolution background objects are highlighted for all to see, which isn't a deal breaker but does take you back a bit.
The top screen is mostly kept clear of onscreen displays, with all these taking up the space on the bottom screen, easily letting you see the current points as well as games and sets won. A nice touch is that the character portraits change between three possible versions for each character depending on whether they are winning, losing or are tied in the current game. One odd thing is that the power gauge for your special shots is still on the top screen when there seems to be plenty of room along the top of the bottom screen for them.
The replay system is a little weird. After each successful point the game handily plays a replay, which is skippable if you just want to get back to the action and it automatically skips it when the opponent scores. What's strange is that the replay always starts from the serve, so if a particular rally went for about 50 bazillion hits before you scored then you'd have to sit through all 50 bazillion hits again if you wanted to resee that epic aerial smash. I do like that you can cycle through various camera angles by pressing up on the D-Pad though.
Music is nice and upbeat. Nothing to write home about, but you know it's there and is pleasant enough for you to keep the volume up. Each family member has a few soundbites that are entirely in Japanese (for the few that are actual words and not just grunts). Each matches up well so it comes together for a nice audio experience.
Family Tennis 3D isn't a game you intend to tackle full time. It is instead a game you play as a diversion between rounds of other much larger gaming experiences, and in that respect the game succeeds. While lacking a few key options, including a multiplayer mode, the game mechanics it does have work wonderfully and the package in all is fun to play.
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