Back in July, Nacon and Big Ant Studios revealed a gameplay trailer for Tennis World Tour 2, the sequel to Nacon’s 2018 simulation tennis game Tennis World Tour. This past weekend, I got my hands on a demo build of Tennis World Tour 2 for some gameplay impressions. I’ll go over some of Big Ant Studios’ changes from Tennis World Tour 2. Then, we’ll hop into my experience with the game.
Tennis World Tour 2 Technical Improvements
Nacon’s presentation focused on two kinds of improvements: Technical and Gameplay. The biggest technical change between Tennis World Tours 1 and 2 is the game engine. Tennis World Tour 2 was build using Big Ant Studios’ in-house engine. This in-house engine may have been part of the reason Nacon brought Big Ant Studio in to replace former Tennis World Tour developer Breakpoint (in a press release from July, Nacon says they were excited to continue to work with Big Ant after their collaboration on AO Tennis 2). This change in engine also allowed Big Ant to double the number of animations in-game. Nacon pointed to a specific fix from TWT: certain shots in TWT carried the wrong animation, which made it hard to tell what kind of shots your opponent would be taking.
Finally, the TWT 2 team received a lot of feedback about TWT’s online. As a result, better online stability was an important goal for TWT 2. Tennis World Tour 2 will feature online casual and ranked modes for Singles and the game’s brand-new Doubles mode.
One big hang-up is that TWT 2’s Doubles mode is built for local play, or two controllers on the same console. Tennis World Tour 2’s online play is developed to be one console versus one console. This means, in order to play Doubles online in TWT 2, each team will need to be playing together on the same console. I asked if Nacon or Big Ant had plans to expand Doubles to four players on four consoles in the future, and Project Director Clément Nicolin said that, while they would like for that to be possible, it’s not part of their current plans.
Next, let’s run down some of the gameplay changes I got to experience in Tennis World Tour 2.
Tennis World Tour 2 Gameplay Changes
We only had access to a few systems in the demo. We could play Exhibition, interact with the game’s storefront, and dive into the new My Card system. Unfortunately, I did not have access to any kind of tutorial for Tennis World Tour 2, which, in my opinion, was a huge detriment to the demo’s effectiveness.
New Shot Timing System
Shot timing was not an aspect in the first Tennis World Tour, and feels like an integral part of gameplay in Tennis World Tour 2. There are two ways you can time your shots in TWT 2. First, you can you double tap the shot button, which causes a small target to show up next to your character.
Double tapping the shot button felt like the most natural way for me to return volleys, but it made some shots difficult. For example, a drop shot is performed by hitting RB and X at the same time on the Xbox controller, which can be hard to double tap.
The second method is to hold the button, and let go when the ball is in front of you. It felt like this was the way the game wants you to play. Releasing the button felt like there was much more room for error, though, and I just couldn’t figure this method out.
Improved Serve System
According to Nicolin, the team found Tennis World Tour’s serve system a bit too straight-forward. Part of the changes coming to TWT 2 include a new serve system built to add a bit more depth to serving. To be honest, the new serve system wasn’t very intuitive, something a quick tutorial could have easily solved. The bar above my character’s head determined the direction of the serve. Sometimes, when I got the dot inside the circle, the green ‘safe’ message would pop up over my head. Other times, it wouldn’t. Occasionally, I would get the ‘safe’ message and not even be close to the circle.
On the way back down, you time a second button press to hit the ball. If your timing is wrong, the message ‘low power’ flashes above your head, and you hit a real soft ball across the net. The thing is, there isn’t a lot of feedback beyond this to let you know how you served bad.
The Hawk-Eye System
This one’s pretty straight-forward. Nicolin says the team wanted to add in the Hawk-Eye system for better immersion. The fact that it can help clear up fuzzy calls is nice, too. In my experience, games with challenge systems feel like they mess up intentionally, just so you can challenge a play. Tennis World Tour 2 didn’t make any egregious errors in my time with the game, which meant it felt extra good when a dispute went my way in a pivotal moment.
The Card System
Tennis World Tour 2‘s card system has a lot of potential. You buy booster packs of cards with in-game currency earned by playing the game (Nicolin assured us that there were no plans for microtransactions at launch or post-launch). There are four different card categories: endurance, power, precision, and agility. You build a hand of five cards. One card, called the Support card, stays in effect for an entire match. The other four cards are assigned to the four directions on your D-pad, and can be activated during a match. These cards are used during games for a slight advantage, or to force disadvantage on your opponent. For example, one card increases an opponent’s slice shot stamina cost by 5% for one game. Another increases the player’s backhand power by 10 points for five shots.
There’s a lot of depth and flexibility possible in this kind of system. You could bolster your character’s weaknesses, or exploit an opponent’s weaknesses. You could bring a hand of tricks, or try to account for specific situations. My worry, however, is that your cards have a shelf life. Each card can only be used a certain amount of times. Once that number is reached, that card is gone from your inventory. This system is fine if cards are easy to replace. So, how much is a booster pack?
The Card Store
There are three different kinds of boosters, basic, mega and hyper, each type having better odds for rarer cards. A five card basic booster costs 1200 in-game currency. In the 10+ games I played, I earned 250 points total–all for one win against a very easy AI (no judgement). Each loss, no matter how many games or sets I won, netted me the same amount of in-game currency: zero. Hopefully currency will be easier to come by in the final game. As it stands, using cards just doesn’t feel worth losing them.
I really wish this demo came with a tutorial. The systems in Tennis World Tour 2 are not intuitive enough for me to have learned them just from enough playtime in exhibition mode. I spent half my matches in Tennis World Tour 2 just trying to understand how the timing system works, and the other half trying to understand movement.
It’s unfair to call the movement in the game clunky, I just don’t think it is very useful. Often, it is more important that you’re pressing your shot button far enough ahead of the ball, which puts your character in position without having to actually move across the court. Tennis World Tour has a sprint button. Using it never pays off. More often than not, I would move my character towards the tennis ball and watch it fly by, helplessly. Even serves that were within arms reach.
At its best, playing Tennis World Tour 2 feels dramatic. Volleys travel both sides of the court, recreating the spectacle of watching a great tennis game. The rest of the time, it felt like I was failing a long series of quick time events, with no feedback on what was going wrong. One missed timing on an otherwise good return put the ball straight in the net, which felt like a frustrating punishment for one missed input.
At the very least, Tennis World Tour 2 got me interested in being taught how to play Tennis World Tour 2. Tennis World Tour 2 drops in September 2020 for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. The Nintendo Switch version releases in October.
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