Title: AO Tennis 2
Developer: Big Ant
Publisher: Big Ben
Official Site: Big Ant/AO Tennis 2
Release Date: January 9, 2020 (PC) February 11, 2020 (Xbox One, PS4, Switch)
Version Tested: Xbox One
In the world of sports simulation games, Madden and the NBA 2K series have reigned supreme for quite a while. MLB The Show has carved out its little corner on the PS4 as well. Now AO Tennis 2 is hoping to capture a mostly untapped edge of the industry as well.
Console gamers have been starved for years when it comes to top-quality Tennis sims. Sure, you can play Mario Tennis Aces if you want a comedic, special-powered spin on that type of game.
There’s the old Mario Tennis Ultra Smash out there if you want to go further back. But when talking about the current generation of consoles, and even the one before it, there hasn’t been a very good game that would allow you to feel as though you were really stepping onto the center court and getting ready to serve against the best of the best.
Tennis World Tour was supposed to scratch the long persistent itch last year. Unfortunately, the game launched with a ton of bugs and problems and soon fell into the dustbin of failed video game history. That left a gaping hole where a really good tennis game could step in. Developers Big Ant almost managed to fill that opening with the original AO Tennis, but it didn’t quite get it done.
Their follow up does manage to step into the void and could be the king of the hill of a sub-set of the sports sim ignored for so long.
Going for the Grand Slam
The AO in AO Tennis 2 stands for Australian Open, but the game only centers around one of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world. If a player is so inclined, they can take on the role of one of the best players in the world and see if they can dominate the professional game and win the tourney.
The ability to step into the shoes of some of the worlds best has always been a draw when talking about the sports sim genre. Where the game really shines, though, is its impressively immersive career mode.
In the career mode, you can also take on the persona of one of the most dominant players in the world, but it’s more fun to create a complete unknown and watch them grow.
AO Tennis 2‘s character creator is extremely detailed. Everything from the size of your ears to the color of your eyes is modifiable with the intent of allowing users to make themselves in the game truly. There are also some glitches here and there.
When I created “myself,” I seemed to have to wear both a hat and glasses, I never told the game to include. I couldn’t find what switch I had flipped for these or where to flip it back.
Ignoring that, the ability to make little tweaks here and small adjustments there also allowed me to create a budding tennis star who I recognized.
Road to greatness
One my AO Tennis 2 character was “brought to life” it was time to see what kind of success I could have with him. Playing through my actual career was another nice touch.
Instead of playing through a preplanned schedule of tournaments, that schedule, within reason, was up to me. The user can plan a week at a time throughout the year and go to as many or as few tournaments as they think works for them.
If you don’t want to load up on tourneys out of the game, you can schedule training days. Those training sessions allow you to build up experience points, which in turn, can be used to upgrade your character when you advance a level.
There are two different skill trees built into AO Tennis 2. There is a separate one that allows you to “buy” improvements on things like the quality of the spin on your backhand or serve. You can also improve your lobs or slice shots. This particular skill tree will look familiar at least in structure to those who have spent time in MLB The Show’s Road to the Show mode.
This particular set of improvements are purchased through in-game currency your character will earn from participating in tournaments. A little later down the road, you can also score endorsement deals. Of course, in order to get the really big bucks, you’re going to need to master an impressive set of mechanics that combine hitting the right button at the right time while aiming your shot in the right place.
Agony of Defeat
AO Tennis 2 has several different difficulty levels you can try, and only the very lowest is going to be all that manageable for people new to the game series. I started out playing on the second lowest setting, confident I’d played Mario Tennis enough in the last few years that I could hold my own in a rally with some unnamed schlub in a starter tournament.
Then I played three tournaments in a row without winning a game. Winning a point was something I would pump my fist about like I had indeed just won the Australian Open. Then I turned the difficulty down one, and couldn’t lose. Suddenly I was acing my computer opponent with every serve. Something like the sliders you see in Madden would have helped, though, aren’t totally necessary. To take it for a real test drive, I turn the difficulty up one too. Returning a serve became something to celebrate.
For all it’s realism, the one big drawback I found in AO Tennis 2 was an inability to find a happy medium. But that wasn’t enough to keep me from seeing just how far I can eventually grow my player. AO Tennis 2 is able to sink its claws into someone quite well and keep them coming back, even if it is out of a sense of frustration.
Verdict: AO Tennis 2 steps into a market that is almost entirely untapped. It manages to stake its claim thanks to fun gameplay and realism that will keep players who want to feel as though they’re stepping onto the court. There are a few things here or there that keep it from being a perfect sim, but for a title from a relatively small studio, it’s a winner.
- Realistic on-court experience
- Career mode is full and entertaining
- Little touches like the ability to sim a game in-match make it better.
- Some mechanical issues here and there
- The gulf between difficulty settings seems too big at times.
Oliver has been a lifelong gamer and a writer for most of his adult life. He came to Nerdstash thrilled to be able to write about what he loves the most again. Whether it’s video games, movies, or television shows, he’s a combination of jock and nerd and the two parts of the whole have figured out how to live peaceably.