It wasn’t until the release of AO International Tennis that I realized that gamers have been neglected a quality tennis game, specifically a simulation, almost entirely during the last console generation. With all this time since the Virtua Tennis and Top Spin games, surely AO International Tennis can use this time to its advantage and up the ante with new console power, right? Wrong, to the point of double faulting.
The biggest issue with AO is the subpar shot mechanics and overall player movement. Unlike Mario Tennis’ goofy double-tapping control, Big Ant thankfully mapped each type of shot to one of the face buttons. The problem, however, is how the player builds power and aims the ball. Once in place, the player must hold down the shot button until the meter goes from red to green with a green shot indicating the most power. Outside of the boring tutorial or game hints during the ridiculously long load screens, getting a grasp of this control mechanic is loose at best since the meter doesn’t stop on green. Instead, this power meter actually reaches green somewhere in the middle, forcing the player to get lucky with most power shots. Worst yet, the player aims each shot using the analog stick in a very specific spot, the same analog stick used to move. Unfortunately, this results in many missed shots since the shot will often just go in the same direction as the player is moving as the analog stick is already tilted that way, especially when trying to run down quick balls. It takes time to get the hang of it but still you’ll wind up hitting plenty of shots just outside the lines.
Moving also feels unresponsive and inconsistent. Sprinting just doesn’t feel quite right and there is no options to dive or jump. Playing doubles is almost unplayable as AI will often just stand in place and do nothing, making each doubles match seem more like 2-on-1.
Even if the swing mechanics and AI worked, there is still no denying how empty the overall presentation feels. With no music, no celebrations, no TV-like presentation, and really no sound effects other than basic crowd cheers or the occasional plane flying overhead, there is nothing here. Unlike most tennis games, there is a complete lack of extras including commentary. No practice options, no mini games, no boss battles, no drills, nothing. Even the tournament mode just has the player mindlessly move from one match to the next. Sure you can create your character or choose from a list of professional players (but many of the big names like the Williams sisters, Federer and legacy greats like Assassi are surprisingly absent), but the lack of any extras makes this game reek of an underdevelopment budget or short on dev time. The pros that are available do not even look good either, as if made out of wax. There are other little things that bring down the entire experience too. I already mentioned the long load times but being forced to look at Federer’s screaming face during the initial boot three times is a bit excessive. There is also no option to sort players by left or right-handedness.
With bare bone options and poor play control, AO International Tennis needs some more time on the practice court before it can hold its own against the big boys.
Not As Good As: the Virtua Tennis games
Also Try: Super Tennis (SNES)
Wait For It: Mario Tennis Aces (Switch)