Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Everybody's Tennis: PlayStation 2 Tuesdays #2

Clap Hanz has a long history of developing fun, accessible golf games with their Everybody's Golf series (aka Hot Shots Golf in the US).  They date back to the original PlayStation, and the franchise is still going strong today with the latest release on the Vita.  Back in 2007, they decided they would also take a stab at the tennis genre.  For whatever reason, this never caught on and the PS2 version of Everybody's Tennis (along wth a slightly updated PSP port) remains the only one so far.  This a bit of a shame, because while it's not the deepest tennis game out there, it certainly is a whole long of fun and offers a decent amount of gameplay. I remember picking this game up a few years ago when I saw a copy in my local supermarket.  I had no idea it existed before seeing in there on the shelf, but I decided to buy it based on the strength of the golf franchise.

The structure of the single player mode sees you starting off in the novice league, with four courts and two characters unlocked. You are told that you will advance to the amateur class once you've won four matches, and each of these matches also unlock other items along the way.  These could be courts, characters, clothing or different umpires. The courts in Everybody's Tennis are all very nicely designed, being full of colour and rich in little details like trains passing by in the background or a rogue football bouncing across the court in Sakuragoaka Park.   All the different court surfaces such as grass, clay, hard and wood are all represented in the game.

Sound is a either OK or awful depending on your tolerance for whimsical music and bad voice overs.  It does suit the nature of the game but I can see how it would definitely start to grate on the nerves of some before too long. This biggest problem is probably the umpires.  These are of various nationalities but the poor acting makes them sound like bad racial stereotypes and could be potentially offensive, which is definitely not the intent!

Get past this though and you do have a solid and responsive tennis game, thankfully. As I said before it's not the deepest on the market - if you want that I recommend Sega's Virtua Tennis series for the World Tour mode.  What is on offer here is a lot of fun though and the PS2 version can be found easily for just a few quid (the PSP goes for considerably more) so I would say give it a go if you enjoy tennis games.  Oh, and besides the aforementioned single player mode there are also training and multiplayer options, with the game supporting the Multi Tap for four player fun.   Hopefully Clap Hanz and Sony will decide to revisit the franchise again (maybe on the Vita?) - it deserves another shot.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Splashdown & Splashdown 2 Rides Gone Wild: PlayStation 2 Tuesdays #1

The last PlayStation 2 recently left the production line, and so to celebrate the life of this truly fantastic console I present to you the first in a new regular series: PlayStation 2 Tuesdays.  There are literally hundreds of fantastic games to be scooped up for the system, often at a very reasonable price.  Each week, I will be focusing on one or more games to try and highlight why you should consider picking them up.  First up, the Splashdown series.

The Jet Ski / Sea Doo racing genre has been somewhat under utilised in video gaming over the years, with the most notable series being Wave Race on the N64 and Gamecube.  The Splashdown series is less well known amongst gamers in general, yet it gives Nintendo’s franchise a serious challenge in terms of quality and playability.  Both games were developed by Rainbow Studios, who had already gained something of a following thanks to their high quality ATV Offroad Fury franchise.

The first game features 21 tracks (20 unlocked over the course of three different difficulty settings, and one secret track).  The majority of these are fairly realistic circuits set in locations around the globe such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Nice harbour in France and around the coast of Bali. There are also four or so other tracks that are based inside man made arenas, and these are used for one on one challenges with other racers in single player.  By beating characters that are locked to begin with you then earn the right to play as them.  Each track features ramps to jump off of, buoys to slalom through, and more often than not multiple routes to take.

The water looks wet... which is nice.
The easy mode gives you 12 races to complete, and as the name of the mode would suggest it is fairly straightforward to beat it.  Stepping up to Normal gives you the full 20 normal courses to complete and the opposition is notably tougher.  You have to make sure you execute tricks and built up your performance meter, which in turn increases your top speed.  Basic level tricks are pretty easy to pull off, but in this first game the mid tricks are quite difficulty to remember, and the high level ones involve a long and complicated string of button presses that are unique for each character.  I am always pretty hopeless at remembering moves in fighting games and it’s the same deal here as well.

The handling is nice and responsive, though this does vary depending on the character you choose.  You can push up on the left stick as you go round tricky turns to take them at a tighter angle, or you can dip the front of your personal water craft under the water and then quickly pull back to hop over small obstacles. You also need to take advantage of straight areas of track by pulling back on the left stick to hydroplane, and avoid wiping out.  One collision is enough to lose you the race even on the normal difficulty, though you can restart as many times as you need to.  Before each race you will be told the minimum position that you need to finish it to be allowed to move on to the next event, based on your current standings in the tournament, and again I didn’t have too many problems on the first two difficulty settings but Hard definitely lives up to it’s name.

Moving on to Splashdown 2: Rides Gone Wild, things are taking to all new levels of craziness as the subtitle would suggest.  The World Tour mode takes place on up to 12 tracks set in theme park rides.  These include a track that is quite obviously based on Jurassic Park, one that is pirate themed, a Bermuda triangle circuit that goes from calm seas and sunny skies one minute to a storm the next, with sinking ships and world war 2 biplanes in the background.  I do like the imaginative track design and the way the route changes slightly on each lap, but on the whole I think I prefer the normal tracks from the first game.  The difficulty of the game is noticeably harder this time as well, I had trouble progressing far on the normal setting with the characters you start the game with.  Unlocking stuff in Splashdown 2 is done by spending points you earn based on your performance in each race.  As well as more characters there are additional Sea Doos with different statistics, various wetsuits that I believe are merely cosmetic, and more tracks to unlock.  The trick system has been refined a bit in the sequel, with the high level tricks now being easier to pull off and remember.

On the third lap of the pirate themed level, the ship explodes and you can take a short cut through the wreckage.
In addition to World Tour there is also another huge championship set in the indoor arenas similar to the first game, and there are also technical time trials to attempt set on unique tracks. All of these game modes and unlockables mean that there is plenty to see and do in both games, so considering that they should only cost you a few quid to pick up they are both bargains.  Whether you prefer the realistic approach taken by the first game or the wacky fantasy of the sequel is all a matter of taste really – I would say try both games out and decide for yourself, as they are both definitely worth adding to your collection.