You’ll often find me building up my Ultimate Team on FIFA or UFC, but it’s rare that I ever venture out of that comfort zone. I’m a big racing fan, but as far as your typical sports games go, the furthest I tend to venture outside of football is in the golf scene.
With Smoots World Cup Tennis on the horizon though, my interest was piqued, and whilst we already have plenty of realism based tennis titles available, one thing the Xbox has been missing is a tennis game that looks to capture the same magic harnessed by Nintendo and Mario Tennis. If any game is going to be able to do that though, it is Smoots World Cup Tennis and with my racket firmly attached to my hand, I headed to the court.
Smoots World Cup Tennis comes with some clear options – Exhibition, Tournament Mode and Story Mode. It is in the former where players have the option to take up a no-strings attached match against the A.I. – or local multiplayer should you have someone to man the second controller. Depending on how many spare players you have you can also run a a two vs two matchup. The usual options come into play, allowing you to amend such things as the number of games, sets and opponent difficulty.
The Tournament Mode is similar but instead works across a knockout fashion with players competing for a trophy at the end. Saving the best till last though and Smoots also comes with a full-on Story Mode, allowing players to find the meat and gravy of the game. To kick it all off you get to enjoy a tutorial that runs you through the different controls and how exactly you’ll be found pulling off the various hits/shots that are available. Basically put though, your left stick operates the movement and then smashing the face buttons will action hits, lobs and slices, with a hold of the button powering things up. Something that can prove vital in winning a match point.
Thanks to a clever circle that appears on the ground, it is always possible to see just where the ball is going to land, allowing you to get to the location of the ball and hit it back in time. This is great as you learn to play, but having it in place as you get to grips with the gameplay can mean rallies go on for a considerable amount of time, especially if you’re playing on the higher difficulty levels. There is a stamina system that feeds into this, but in general there is very little to prevent rallies going on for extended amounts of time unless you decide to drop a power strike which is almost guaranteed to score a point. In the Story Mode, losing energy means losing games and to get your stamina levels back up once they have run dry is done by either taking a break and going home – which will see you miss a week of season play – or drinking an energy drink, which costs nothing more than a few easily earned coins. It is the latter which you will need to focus on in order to encroach on that coveted number 1 position in the world.
To help climb to the number 1 spot, which is essentially the goal of the game, players must go through a number of exhibition and tournament matchups, winning each of them along the way. Doing so will see your Handling, Speed and Strength stats increase and the higher the rank of the participants you face, the higher the difficulty and effect it will have on your rank should you win. Things start off fairly easy with the 250 competition becoming available, before progressing onwards and upwards through to the 500 and 1000 tournaments, before culminating in a grand finale at the legendary Grand Smoots Tournament. It’s nothing in-depth but at least it’s easy to follow.
Sadly, getting to the final isn’t as fun as the game initially plays out and whilst the cutesy characters and comical customisation options set the mood for a light-hearted affair, there’s nothing to prepare you for the otherwise dull action that is simply hitting a ball back and forth until either you or your opponent make a slight misstep. The reason for this is the complete lack of shot variety as finding an opportunity in which you can do anything but play a standard shot is pretty much impossible. Unless you pull off a big ace from the serve – which is almost guaranteed should you hit a max power shot – chances are you’ll be painfully swinging the racket until someone finally slips up.
Of course that may well sound accurate for a game of tennis, but with almost no shot variation whatsoever, Smoots World Cup Tennis simply revolves into a game of standing on the circle and hitting A. Provided you’re on the circle properly and don’t mis-time it, there’s no chance you’re dropping the point, making each game, set and match an extremely long-winded and uncomfortable experience.
What’s worse is that when the back and forth action is in motion, there is very little movement whatsoever, and should you try and force this into the play – which should be a natural element of tennis – you’re likely to find yourself losing out to a cheap point because the opponent continues to hit the same old shots for the past ten minutes.
If you can put up with that then you may well enjoy what’s on offer in Smoots Tennis World Cup. If like me though you’d prefer something that requires you to make the most of the space around you, allowing the chance to plan your shots and play tactically, you’ll probably want to head on over to one of those other games I was talking about at the start; the more sim-based tennis games on Xbox One.
If you do progress on with the game’s story mode, then you’ll eventually find yourself on the receiving end of some unlocked mini-games. None are all that exciting, but they do provide something of a change. However, with handling stiffer than an arctic lorry on ice, Smoots World Cup Tennis isn’t going to be keeping many players interested long enough to see the end of the mini-games.
Away from the gameplay and on a positive note there is a decent degree of cosmetic wares on offer. There are a ton of them available and should you unlock them all you’ll have a vast amount of comical and stupidly outlandish clothing items to kit out your Smoots with. These tie-in nicely with the visuals too and with that in mind the game isn’t all that bad. Sure, it’s nothing spectacular but it does lend itself to some well-crafted characters and a cutesy appearance which would have been much more appreciated had the game played as nicely as it looks. The audio isn’t great though, with repetitive and weird noises every time you hit a shot, and a typical game could be compared to a mating ritual to anyone with their eyes closed. But hey, a grunt is a big part of tennis is it not?!
Smoots World Cup Tennis on Xbox One isn’t the best introduction to the world of tennis on console. It fails in regards to the gameplay thanks to a complete lack of variety in hits, and a robotic and linear feel to each match, but the visuals are fun and there are a ton of customisation opportunities. Should things ever liven up then we could be looking at a different story – one of a somewhat capable game. But to do that, the mechanics need an overhaul and that’s not something I see happening any time soon.