I’ve been playing a ton of Mario Tennis lately, both the original for Nintendo 64 and Power Tennis for the Wii. So, when Managing Editor Mike Straw approached me to preview a new tennis game, I knew I was uniquely qualified to do so. The game, Matchpoint – Tennis Championships, is developer Torus Games and publisher Kalypso Media’s first sports game. During the preview event, the presenter said repeatedly that the team at Torus wanted to create a solid foundation to build a new franchise on top of. I’d say they pull that off quite well.
Matchpoint – Tennis Championships Focuses On Shots, Not Buttons
When I said earlier that I felt qualified to preview a tennis game, I lied a little. I tend to lean towards arcade-style sports games over simulation ones. Matchpoint – Tennis Championships labels itself as a simulation tennis game, like the Tennis World Tour series which I previewed in August 2020. Matchpoint takes a different approach in its design, however. In other simulation tennis games, the focus is on timing; When to press and release a button to get the correct shot. Torus wants to shift the focus of Matchpoint to be solely on shot selection and shot location.
Matchpoint’s Shot Selection and Shot Location
The flow of the game reflects this, for better and for worse. On the Xbox controller, each of your four face buttons is assigned to a corresponding shot type: flat, topspin, slice, and lob. When you’re close to where the ball will land, you start holding the button for the shot you want to take. While you’re holding the button, a reticle appears on the other side of the court. This is how you aim your shot. You can turn the reticle off in the options, and Torus recommends you do so once you feel like you have a feel for the aiming system. I kept it on because it felt good to play that way.
This comes at the cost of mobility, though. Sometimes it felt like my character was on rails to the next volley. Other times, I struggled to get my character to run up and cover the net because they would immediately start waiting on the next shot. I didn’t mind this stuff so much, but I could see this being a sticking point for some folks.
Torus insisted during their presentation that Matchpoint – Tennis Championships is not an arcade-style game, but by focusing on shot placement versus press timing, it felt like Matchpoint bridges the gap between arcade and simulation for me in a way other tennis games haven’t.
Career Mode Is Great (Even Though I Look Really Bad)
Without access to opponents online, the career mode is the biggest sell in the preview build. You start by creating a character. This is probably my biggest gripe with Matchpoint – Tennis Championships, that there are extremely limited customization options. Hopefully this is only an issue in the preview build, but with the build feeling so full featured I’m not sure if that will change. I made Jake Jacobson and found out that the game’s grey hair does not present well in-engine.
Matchpoint drops you into its career mode in the tie break of a pre-determined match. This functions as a brief tutorial, letting you get the hang of playing against an AI for the first time. It also introduces Matchpoint’s Strength and Weakness system. When you start a career file, the game generates 499 (!!) AI opponents to popular the career mode. To help these players feel like people, each AI gets its own set of strengths and weaknesses.
Matchpoint – Tennis Championships’ Unique AI Generation
A good example of this system came when I played Leon Orlando in the finals of my first major tournament. I discovered Orlando’s two strengths early: he reacts quicker than average to lob shots, and he plays better than most at the net. These two complementary strengths made Orlando very difficult to play against in the first few sets of our match. After narrowly winning 3 sets, however, I discovered his weakness: he becomes demoralized and plays worse when he’s down 3 or more sets. Other opponents I played against had much more straight-forwards strengths and weaknesses, but I’m really impressed and excited that the system can produce opponents like Leon Orlando, who really felt like a guy.
Managing Your Calendar
The career mode opens up after you win the tutorial tie breaker. There are three events that you can interact with on the calendar: Training, which improves your character’s stats; Exhibition, in which you play a random opponent with the opportunity to win new equipment (which improve your stats); and Tournament, which speaks for itself. There are high profile tournaments (including licensed ones) that require a certain rank to enter, and open events that you’ll be entering early on to increase your rank.
Often these events overlap, which require you to make decisions on how to best use your time. There are usually both training and exhibition windows during open events, so you can choose to skip an event if you want to get more gear or improve your stats. Sometimes this comes at the sacrifice of your ranking. It’s a balancing act that I had fun with during my time with Matchpoint.
My biggest beef with the career mode is that you don’t have the options to change the default match length. Tennis is a long game, and I found that usually I would play one match and then have to take a break to do something else. I don’t mind playing this way, but I’d sit down and put a lot more consecutive time into Matchpoint if I could shorten all the matches.
Matchpoint Tennis Championship – A Satisfying First Step
Matchpoint – Tennis Championships is a great first-release for Torus, and an engaging tennis game with a great career mode loop and a lot of potential. On top of that, he game will have cross-save, cross-platform multiplayer and hits Xbox Game Pass on July 7, the day it releases. Matchpoint – Tennis Championships will be $49.99 on the Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4 and 5, and Nintendo Switch. It also launches on Steam for $39.99.