Matchpoint – Tennis Championships, as a premise, is a compelling game for both tennis and casual sports fans alike. Unfortunately, the game suffers from a lack of detail and customisation, a sparse roster of tennis icons, and a gameplay system that becomes stale extremely quickly.
It comes with solid roots, but once you dive deep into its gameplay, you realise that there’s not much past the baseline. It opens well, with a control scheme that’s easy to grasp and even more so to master, but with a lack of depth beyond the basic controls, there’s not a whole lot to drag you back in. As a tennis fan myself, I want to be able to recommend Matchpoint – Tennis Championships to you, but sadly I can only recommend that you grab it at a discount, if even then.
Matchpoint – Tennis Championships presents itself as an arcade-like, but realistic, tennis simulator. At that, it succeeds. Easy to pick up controls, a vibrant but basic art style, and a few customisation points make this game more arcadey than the complexities of the sport it’s imitating suggest. Tennis is an extremely difficult sport to simulate, as there are several different movements required in any given moment. The movement and footwork, the swing itself, the intended target of the ball; there’s just so much to consider.
This is why it’s impressive that Matchpoint manages to get the control scheme to a level that’s easy to pick up and play. You nudge the stick to suggest a direction to your character (there’s something of an targeting assist, so suggesting a direction will be enough to align your player with the ball), hold a button early to decode your swing type, then use a different stick to decide where the ball will land. It’s an intuitive, easy to learn system that works really well. Unfortunately, there’s not much to it, and besides whacking the ball as hard as you can cross court, there’s not really a huge amount of variety in the strategies you can utilise to defeat your opposition. When the rallies continue on, it does start to become slightly tedious, thwacking the ball back at your opponent time and time again. With games lasting so long, it feels like a commitment to finish a game, and in an arcade game it should never feel arduous to finish a round.
This issue with how it feels to play extensively leads into one of the biggest problems I believe Matchpoint – Tennis Championships has. It just doesn’t offer enough reason to play beyond the first few matches. After you play the openings of the career mode, you’re faced with improving your skills through training drills, which are all incredibly full exercises in patience. You’re then led to play against many different opponents for trophies that you never see, so the feeling of reward is lessened a significant amount.
The lack of big names is also extremely noticeable, with only a few (including cover star Nick Kyrgios and several other notables such as Daniil Medvedev) spanning your entire career journey. It all eventually gets dull and repetitive. When the gameplay lacks depth and the matches drag on, playing Matchpoint – Tennis Championships becomes a drag in itself. That’s a huge problem when it presents itself as a colourful simulation arcade game.
The lack of options the game presents is another issue. With a barebones multiplayer structure that essentially adds up to singles matches against randoms, AI, or friends, there’s not much to bite into here. When the career mode is done, you’ll likely be tired of facing off against the AI, but there’s no mode to face off against randoms besides the basic singles. No doubles, no tournament, nothing. It’s a huge letdown, again for a game that presents itself as arcade, with very little to play that’s actually arcade-like at all.
Customisation is a little on the slim side. There’s a fairly basic character customisation system at the beginning of career mode, which allows for a little facial customisation and a few basic clothing options. My main issue with customisation is that there’s a limited selection of the advertised gear from companies such as Nike, Adidas and Babolat. It’s a shame, as with a third person game in such a highly sponsored sport, and seeing the licensed pros you play against wearing full outfits of popular brands, that we couldn’t have been given the same amount of choice. Most of the clothes you’re given to choose from are unbranded, which gives them a cheap, generic look that doesn’t help to make the player feel like your own. Heavy customisation would have also helped bolster the satisfaction of playing the career mode, pairing with the skill system to create a more satisfying progression arc. We can only hope more options are added in future as the game grows and becomes more popular.
The thing that undermines Matchpoint – Tennis Championships most though, is the lack of difficulty. Once you get to grips with the controls, every opponent seems to be stuck on easy mode. It’s as simple as just playing shot after shot until they make a mistake. In the career, it’s possible to build up stats such as your accuracy and power through drills, but these drills are utterly boring and with your accuracy being near perfect to begin with, I never saw the point of building it up even more. I did build up my power a fair bit, however, and that seemed to make a decent amount of difference, but to be honest I could have beaten the career mode on my starting power level. The higher your power, the more likely a winner will be successful, but with most shots, if well timed, being winners anyway, it’s not difficult to hit rocket after rocket. I think that Matchpoint – Tennis Championships manages the basics to a tee with its control scheme, but it just never manages to push the player any deeper than that, and therefore makes the gameplay feel flat, rather like the presentation.
The presentation of Matchpoint – Tennis Championships is shiny and colourful, but I wouldn’t say it’s particularly attractive. It lacks detail, and the players look borderline unrealistic as they move around the court. It’s not an ugly game, as the graphics do feel fairly modern, but it’s definitely not a pretty game either, with a lack of detail and use of bright, high contrast colours, the blues of the tennis court and yellow-green ball almost clash together.
Facial detail on opposing players is decent if they’re an icon player rather than a generic opponent, but the crowd seems to be almost entirely identical. Something that is not unheard of in sports games – I’m looking at you eFootball 2022 – but disappointing nonetheless.
I come away from Matchpoint – Tennis Championships slightly crestfallen. I was expecting a brilliant tennis game, with short, arcade-like matches that I could enjoy alone or with friends. The issue is, I’d never try and make my friends play this as, first, they’d get bored before the end of a match, and second, the games would never end, as we’d hit the ball towards each other over and over again; the game missing the required skills and shots to beat the other opponent.
The career mode also disappoints, with genetic opponents filling the ranks of people you’re required to best on your journey to stardom. Multiplayer is bare, with much of the content we’d expect from a tennis game being absent. The one thing I can praise Matchpoint – Tennis Championships for is that it has the basics down to the service line, with easy to understand, quick to learn controls that make it easy to pick up and play – but it needs to be deeper. The missing content and lack of ways to use this intuitive system disappoint though, and ultimately Matchpoint – Tennis Championships is less of a winning smash and more of a missed drop shot.
Matchpoint – Tennis Championships is available from the Xbox Store