Genre: Sports Developer: Codemasters Publisher: Codemasters Players: 1-4 Released: 1994
In the ’90s, before Roger Federer dominated the top of the tennis charts, Pete Sampras was the world’s number one tennis player. Though I do not really care about tennis, I found the American clashes between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi interesting, even if it was only about marketing an image. Agassi seemed like the sympathetic guy from the street who had to deal with a lot of setback to make it to the top, while for the big public Sampras looked like a fortunate man for whom it was easy to acquire anything he wanted. I’m not saying it actually was that way; it was just an impression of one who only occasionally watches tennis.
Since both players were famous worldwide, it wasn’t a surprise that two video games were released with their licenses. Interestingly enough, those games also seemed to fit, or even in a way contribute to their created images. TecMagik released in 1992 the ‘raw’ tennis game Andre Agassi Tennis, a game which unfortunately turned out to be pretty bad. The whole thing looked too grainy, and the biggest point of criticism was the horrible control. Pete Sampras Tennis was released two years later by Codemasters, and as you might have suspected, the game narrowly fit into Sampras’ image. It is stylish, fluid and short on defects.
The most noticeable aspect about Pete Sampras Tennis is that it was the first game which made use of Codemasters’ J-cart, a cartridge into which two extra control ports have been built. In this way the game is easily playable for up to four players without the need to buy an extra split port for the controls. The game can be played with two human players against two computer players, two human players against two human opponents, or even one human player teamed up with the computer against two human or computers players. Playing with the computer works fine enough, because the AI is pretty reasonable for a game of this period.
Standard they are three options to choose from. In challenge you can face the computer or a human opponent, in world tour one or two players travel over the world to face different opponents and in tournament mode it is possible to create your own tournament with friends. Besides these three options, there are also two secret options available which are easily accessible by entering ‘zeppelin’ on the password screen. The two additional options are the ‘huge tour’ (a sort of extensive world tour) and ‘crazy mode’ in which the tennis field is gathered with strange power-ups and unexpected appearances (did I see Codemasters’ game character Dizzy walking along the net?). In challenge mode it is also possible to select your playground (grass, hard or clay court).
The difficulty varies among the diverse modes. Just playing one challenge (one, two, three or five sets) against the computer is usually pretty though. However, the world tour starts off way too easy and you’ll win the first games easily. Later on it gets a little harder. Huge tour is a lot bigger and harder, and will serve those who are looking for a real challenge. Crazy mode is a little too crazy for my taste – I found it often very difficult to comprehend what was going on.
The graphics in Pete Sampras Tennis are very sharp and clear, and all the players move nice and fast. Furthermore, the handling is excellent. The control makes use of the so-called after-touch, which makes it possible to really give direction to a shot. This really adds to the gameplay, and it makes Sampras’ game feel like much more than just another Pong clone called Tennis. Even novice players will rapidly learn how to do lob and dive to a ball; however, one point takes a little getting used to. The players switch field from time to time, but for the one who’s at the far end of the court (the most far away on screen), it is a little harder to return a ball correctly. At the beginning most players will hit a lot of balls out, but with a little more practice even this aspect is surmountable. Besides that, I have to say I didn’t really experience different behaviours of the ball on different court grounds.
The downsides of Pete Sampras Tennis are just minor, but there are some downsides nonetheless. First of all, just because the game has been licensed by Pete Sampras, you shouldn’t think any of the other players are real. The only playable real life tennis player is Pete Sampras himself; however, it is possible to change the name of your player so you can always change to your favorite. (I find it more fun to write down nonsense like ‘I gonna win’ and stuff like that, but that’s just me.) Also, a strange thing about the game is that women face men, even in one-on-one games (expect in the world tour in which there are separate tournaments for women and men). Additionally, one of the most annoying aspects is the fact that sometimes the public is cheering or a player goes protesting against the referee. In the several seconds this takes place it is not possible to play on. While it adds to the atmosphere, it gets a bit annoying in the long run.
Fortunately, those few flaws are easy to forgive. Overall, Pete Sampras Tennis is a very polished and entertaining tennis game. As a multi-player experience it outclasses most other games, and also as a single-player game, it has its charm. It’s easily the best tennis titles for the Genesis and will even appeal to those who do not like the sport. A sequel called Pete Sampras Tennis ’96 was also released, but for unknown reasons, it was made available only in Europe. Even so, the original Pete Sampras Tennis is definitely one of the few sports games for the Genesis which has aged pretty well.
SCORE: 8 out of 10