The most important part of any sports game is the controls. Actions have to feel weighty, movement has to feel fluid and precise, and at the very least, the control scheme has to make sense. If these aspects aren’t executed well then the game is destined to fail. And unfortunately, that is the case of AO Tennis. A mediocre at best, mind-numbingly frustrating at worst tennis game created by Big Ant Studios.
For over two decades now, it has been the standard in video games for movement to be controlled with the left joystick, and aim to be controlled with the right joystick. This holds true all the way back to 1997 when the Dual Analog controller was released with the original PlayStation. This method of controls has held up for so long because it works so well. Unfortunately, for some strange reason, Big Ant Studios decided that both movement and aim could be consolidated into one Joystick, and completely forget about the other perfectly usable, more reliable right joystick. This was done because your different shot types, (i.e. slice, lob, topspin.) are controlled with the face buttons, and you need to be able to aim and swing your racket at the same time. But an easy fix would have been to move the different shot types to the shoulder buttons of the controller, leaving your right thumb free to use the right joystick. It’s astonishing that in 2018 this is hard to figure out.
The controls can’t all be terrible though, right? Wrong. The movement is horrible too. Characters feel like they’re hulking behemoths, instead of nimble athletes, stutter-stepping at first, and then deciding to sprint past the location that you wanted them to run to. Sometimes the character decides not to move at all, frozen in place as a lob that should have been easily reachable goes right over their head. The worst offender in this mess of “controls” is the charge shot. When the movement decides to work, and you’re able to get where you want to go, with a little time to spare, you can charge up your shot to hit the ball harder by holding down the button. But to the astonishment of no one, 85% of the time your character decides that they just don’t feel like playing anymore, and lets the ball go right by them. It’s an incredibly poorly implemented mechanic, and you’re better off ignoring it completely.
Another integral part of sports games is a solid tutorial and practice mode. Something to help you learn and get a feel for the mechanics of the game. But alas, even this was done poorly. The tutorial itself is fine. It shows you a specific shot and then asks you to hit three targets on the court using said shot. But then if you miss a ball, your character will perform a frustrated animation, pacing in a circle and shaking their head just long enough so that the next ball will go by them. So they’ll perform the animation again. Rinse and repeat until you get lucky enough to spam the specified shot button quick enough so that your character decides to actually hit the ball.
AO Tennis International also features a career mode, somewhat similar to NBA 2k’s “MyCareer.” You create a generic character and then have a certain amount of money to spend on stats. You then choose a sponsor, each with different benefits, (such as either a bonus for winning or a higher base pay rate.) and can practice to improve your skills which costs stamina, rest to recover stamina, nurse injuries, all while competing against the best tennis players in the world. It’s a surprisingly fleshed out mode in a game with such little thought put into it.
At the end of the day, AO International Tennis is not the Tennis game that fans of Virtua Tennis series have been waiting for. It is a mess of terrible controls, ugly graphics, and short shorts.
Career Mode: The one well thought out, albeit a bit generic part of AO International Tennis is the Career mode. It would be interesting enough to dedicate some time to if the game was actually fun to play.
The Controls: It’s 2018. Dual Analog controllers have been around for over twenty years. There is no excuse for such a thoughtless control scheme.
The Movement: Even Juggernaut from the X-Men comic series is more nimble and light on his feet than the characters in this game.
AO International Tennis, on the surface, looks like a fun foray that fans of the genre could enjoy. However, surprisingly awful controls, frustrating movement and useless mechanics make this game near unplayable.