You would expect a game entitled Family Tennis SP to be shovelware, but it's a surprisingly good time. You'll enjoy every minute you spend as one of eight highly competitive family members while you slice, lob, and smash your way to become head of the household.
The first thing you'll want to do when you boot up Family Tennis SP is pick a character. You can play as the kids of the family (Billy or Sarah), Mom, Dad, Auntie, Cuz, Nan, or Gramps. Each family member has their own statistics and special move so choosing wisely according to your play style will surely give you an edge. The entire family looks cute in both their anime and 3D-rendered forms which adds to the light-hearted nature of the game. You can clearly see how well animated the relatives are as they run around and whack the tennis ball. The selection of courts includes a forest, beach, merry-go-round, and stadium. Each court has a unique look and offers varying speed and bounce attributes. Overall, the graphics won't blow you away, but it's charming enough to keep a smile on your face.
Controlling your little tennis player is easy. Although you can play with the Pro Controller and Wii Remote (with optional Nunchuk), one player is always forced to use the GamePad. This is an oversight that will probably annoy many players, but maybe they'll patch it one of these days. Thankfully, there are no motion controls whatsoever. As with many other tennis games, the face buttons correspond to different shots. If you are skilled enough, you can time when to hit the ball for a couple of other unique shots. Also, a meter will fill as you play which allows you to execute special shots that are incredibly difficult for your opponent to return. Learning the controls is easy since they are intuitive and responsive, but mastering Family Tennis SP will take some time because the tournaments can get quite difficult.
Family Tennis SP features a decent assortment of modes. Tournament mode will have you face four computer-controlled opponents either by yourself in singles matches or with a friend in doubles matches (the latter teams you up with a computer partner if you decide to play it solo). You can select from three difficulties with the most challenging rewarding you with unlockable gallery art for completion. There is also free play mode where you can customize everything from basic rules to player positions and play against the computer or up to three friends. Finally, there are three mini-games. "Roulette rally" paints constantly changing numbered squares on the court. As you play, you rack up points and whoever wins the rally gets to bank their points. It's definitely an interesting way to add some freshness to the basic tennis formula. The other two mini-games are "human backboard" where you bank points according to how many times you've rallied the ball and "survivor" which basically tests you to see how many characters you can beat in a row. As you can see, there are quite a few interesting ways to play which adds a great deal of replay value to an already fun game.
Although it is fun, a couple of flaws prevent Family Tennis SP from being great. The first is that the audio levels are very unbalanced. Characters grunt and speak the odd line in Japanese and the announcer reports the score and other information. The problem lies in the fact that all of the voice work is incredibly loud. As I played, I turned the volume way down only to realise that I could no longer hear the cool background music. There are no audio options, so you can't even manually fix this issue. The second flaw is that once someone scores, a replay commences (as you would expect). However, by default the replays look identical to when you're actually playing. This is bad for two reasons: one is that it isn't fun watching a replay of something from the same perspective that you just played it in and another is that you will think that you're currently playing only to realise that it's just a replay. If the developers spent some time implementing automated camera angles and slow-down effects then the replays could be entertaining. That being said, you can manually change the camera angle if you want, but that's no fun.
Family Tennis SP is a solid tennis experience that you can easily enjoy with both your real family and your virtual one. Its charming presentation and solid gameplay will make you smile as you lay the smack down on your poor old granny.
- + Great tennis gameplay with tight controls
- + Decent amount of extra content
- + Charming premise with equally cute graphics
- - Incredibly uneven audio levels
- - Replays will sometimes trick you into thinking that you're actually playing
- - Forces one player to use the GamePad