Earlier this year, while Wimbledon was in full swing, I decided to resume my tennis career. Granted, I’d only ever played once, and I couldn’t hit the ball to save my life, but I’d just found £10 down the back of the sofa and was feeling good about myself. I bought a racquet for £8.99 and thought of who I could play with.
I made a few calls to a few friends, all of which ended with ‘Er, no, sorry’, a straight ‘No’, or other language which is far to salty to print here. It was about this point that I decided tennis wasn’t for me, threw the racquet in the bin, and headed back home to sit on the couch in my underpants. Now I remember why I retired.
Since then, I’ve been scouring the AppStore for a decent game to make up for the tennis career I never had. After stumbling across Rolocule’s Flick Tennis: College Wars HD (which sounds like a mash-up of 16 different game genres) I think I’ve found one of the most unique, charming and frankly bonkers tennis games I’ve ever played.
The story follows college student and tennis prodigy Kevin (love him already), as he fights to make his Dad proud, become the number one college tennis player, and figure out how to control his unsightly spots. Possibly.
If this sounds like 1980′s sports film cheese, it’s because it is. This is absolute mozzarella. It’s a classic underdog story pitting young Kevin against the odds, and begins on the eve of an important match, with Kevin in the locker room. His coach gives him a pep talk dripping with cheddar and Kevin promises ‘I will give it my best shot!’
Then – and this is the great bit – It cuts to a flashback scene in Kevin’s house, where his dad, who’s in a wheelchair, starts muttering about wanting to relieve his tennis dreams through Kevin because of the unfortunate accident that robbed him of his career. Describing an incident that leaves you unable to walk as ‘unfortunate’ is one heck of an understatement. I’m not making this up.
Rolocule have clearly jacked the Pathos switch up to 11, but the thing that makes this tale stand out is the way it’s presented. This game is half tennis sim, half rpg, and half comic book. I know that’s three halves. Leave me alone.
Before each match, you’ll get the story so far in comic book form, which invariably leads to the next big showdown between Kevin and the current bad guy standing in his way of 1908′s glory. Then it’s onto the court to flex your tennis elbow.
Controls are pretty intuitive. Flick your finger towards the opposite side of the court where you want the ball to land, and guess what, it’ll land right there. Vary your strokes – slice, drop, lob etc – by either swiping two fingers across the screen (which can get a bit fiddly during a heated rally), or swiping back instead of forward. They prove to be a little too easy to master in the first few matches, which are winnable whilst painting the ceiling on the phone to your mother. I know this because it wasn’t till the later stages of the game I had to tell mummy dearest I had to concentrate on something else. I still managed to finish the ceiling though.
The game is full of graphical inconsistencies. The front end is impressively designed, but the pre-game comic seems hastily drawn. You’ll see promising looking 3D characters as the match loads, but the main characters initially showcase jagged edges and look like drawings from a Disney film from 1960. They’re animated well though.
Environments are bright, and well populated, but eerily static. A bit like The Emirates on matchday. Even though you can hear people chatting before each point, and breaking into a rousing round of applause when someone wins, the crowd, ballboys and officials don’t move at all. I’ve tried clapping without moving before. It isn’t easy.
There isn’t much you can do sonically with this sport, so In-game sounds are cursory at best. Once you’ve heard one racquet hitting a ball, you’ve heard five hundred. The music on the other hand, is fantastic. You don’t get many tracks. But what’s there really get the emotions working while you swipe through the latest episode of ‘Kevin’s Dad Puts Pressure On Him To Win Because He’s In A Wheelchair.’
In the end, you may want to laugh, dismiss or even hate this game, but you really can’t help but love it. What’s to dislike about the text heavy help menu and tutorial, making sure you’ve got every available detail on how to play the game. Or the persistent sign floating above your character’s head that says ‘YOU’, just in case you forget. It’s not pretending to be an upmarket Modern Combat or a sophisticated N.O.V.A 2, it’s nostalgic, rough around the edges and all the more brilliant for it.
So if you’re name’s Kevin (check), you’ve been to college (check), and you like tennis and comics, (check, check) this game’s for me…sorry, you. For everyone else, this is a charming, quirky game with loads of personality. I promise you’ve never seen anything like it.
By Kevin Moore