Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip Review

By Scott Alan Marriott - Posted Jul 01, 2010

Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip is another solid entry in Sony's Hot Shots series that retains the same charm and playability that made Hot Shots Golf a worldwide success. Yet unless you love collecting oodles of outfits and leveling up each individual character, Get a Grip's hold on you won't be as strong as it could have been.

The Pros
  • Addictive story mode
  • Cute and customizable characters
  • Diverse courts
The Cons
  • Some minor control issues
  • No mini-games or offbeat power-ups
  • No online play

As I played through Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip, I had a sudden thought: The world would be a far more interesting place if everyone communicated "Hot Shots" style, with large thought bubbles that reduced sadness, anger, happiness, and tranquility to a single icon floating above one's head. You'd know right at a glance how someone was feeling -- no second-guessing intentions or misreading emotions. If such a thought bubble appeared over the typical Get a Grip player, it would start with a frown, shift to question mark, and end with a musical note. 

Getting Busy

After an early effort on PlayStation 2, Hot Shots Tennis makes its handheld debut with Get a Grip. The first thing you'll notice is that all of the signature elements from the Hot Shots franchise are intact. You have cheerful, cutesy characters, each with strengths and weaknesses, a bevy of costume choices to unlock, and a role-playing-like progression system that lets you earn experience points during matches to improve your character's abilities. Underneath the whimsical exterior, however, lies a solid physics engine that emphasizes proper positioning and timing to pull off slices, lobs, smashes, topspin shots, and so forth. 

But the action on the court takes a few matches to get used to. The default perspective is positioned high above your character, making it difficult to track the ball. Adding to the challenge are characters that seem to move too quickly without any sense of momentum. Swinging the racket feels just as light and airy, with missed shots causing characters to momentarily lose their balance. Those trying to get a feel for the game will be overwhelmed by the barrage of visual assists that are initially more distracting than helpful.

There are musical notes (via thought bubbles) indicating when you've hit the ball with perfect timing. Turtles and rabbits pop up above your head when you swing too slow or too fast, respectively. A red circle indicates where the ball is going to end up after you make contact. Lobs feature an escalating sound effect and a yellow marker so you know when to smash the ball. Adding to the visual overload are courtside objects such as birds, dogs, cheerleaders, and so forth that can easily draw your eyes away from the ball. There's too much going on, you'll think to yourself, without the thought bubble that would frighten anyone daring to approach you.

Intelligent Design

Once you get a few matches under your belt, you will begin to appreciate why the developers included so many on-screen visual cues. They provide immediate feedback on what you are doing right or wrong, and as you progress in your abilities, you can turn these indicators off. There are also two additional camera angles that bring the action closer to your character, should the default perspective prove too distant. Factor in the attribute differences between characters, and the ability enhancing powers of the right gear and clothing combinations, and nearly all of the initial problems disappear once you, ahem, "get a grip" on the play mechanics.

Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip Review

The only issue on the court that won't go away is the hardware limitations. The directional pad is a little too stiff to make quick, fluid movements such as rushing up toward the net without some degree of pain, while the analog "nub" is a little too loose for precise positioning. Both are still viable choices, and you will learn to adjust with either scheme, but you'll also miss some shots now and then solely due to the controls.

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Get a Grip features a story mode, an exhibition mode, and local ad-hoc support for up to four in singles or doubles matches. The main story mode borrows heavily from Nintendo's Mario Tennis series on the handhelds, as you explore a tennis academy and various themed destinations from an overhead perspective. You'll select a boy or girl and begin your career at a small tennis academy, where you'll walk up to fellow students, tap a button, and listen to some silly dialogue before getting to the real reason why you're here -- playing a match.

Spreading the Love

Each opponent you'll encounter is designed to teach you how to deal with specific shots, until you are ready to take on the "boss" of the area. Defeat the boss, and he or she will become part of your playable roster and unlock the next destination. Each of the game's 11 locales, from a television studio and sports complex to a jungle and volcano, offers a distinct court and goofy opponents to play against. The "goal" in each area is to rekindle the boss character's love for tennis -- which incidentally you do by beating the pants off them. Apparently nothing is more motivating than a humiliating defeat.

As you participate in matches, you'll earn experience to level up your character in true Hot Shots fashion. Experience points are awarded for service aces, return aces, hitting the line, and so forth, and you'll earn bonuses depending on how handily you defeat your opponent (from weak to epic victory) or for how much you use a particular character. Leveling up unlocks things like new rackets, additional replay camera angles, and clothing types. Clothing is once again the most prevalent reward for your efforts, with a staggering amount of glasses, hats, hairstyles, shirts, pants, backpacks, and skirts available for playing dress up.

Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip Review

It would have been nice to see new modes, play options, activities, objectives, or similar surprises instead of the wardrobe unlocks. The lack of mini-games is especially disappointing, as the story mode is extremely linear: talk to people, play a match, solve a costume-related puzzle, and confront the final boss. Another drawback is the competition during story mode, which is extremely easy to beat. The nice thing is that the AI isn't robotic -- opponents will flub up shots, hit balls out, and smack the net, but there's no way to adjust the difficulty setting during the story. Tennis veterans will cut through the competition like a Ginsu through a grapefruit.

Worth the Racket?

What starts out as a shaky experience improves dramatically the more you get accustomed to the game's colorful quirks and nuances. The on-court action is brisk and satisfying, the music is relentlessly upbeat and infectious, and while the story mode offers little challenge, you can increase the difficulty of your opponents within custom exhibition matches. Yet both Mario Tennis and Virtua Tennis 3 offer more diverse options for handheld tennis fans, and they can be had for the equivalent of two cups of coffee and a postage stamp. Though developer Clap Hanz should seriously consider tempering its passion for fashion to ensure the Hot Shots series stays as fresh and addictive as earlier efforts, Get a Grip is still worth a spin.

Still want to play it? Why not rent it from GameFly?