Overall Score 91%
Tennis Elbow 2011
Over the past months, we’ve reviewed two other indie tennis games here on Bytten. Although both New Star Tennis and Full Ace Tennis Simulator had their strengths, the newest iteration of Mana Games’ hit is the best of the lot. Tennis Elbow 2011 is supremely playable, customisable and simulates not just the physics of tennis brilliantly, but also captures the feel and flow of the game better than its peers. If you like tennis, as a player or an armchair expert, then this is the game you want for your PC.
Most of your time in Tennis Elbow 2011 will be spent in the career mode. In this mode you create a player, customise him or her to your liking, select a difficulty level that suits your play style and then play through season after season with the goal of reaching the world number 1 ranking and holding it for as long as possible. It’s not going to be an easy task though. There are (as far as I can tell) absolutely hundreds of other players from all over the world that compete with you for the same goal. As you travel the world, flying from Morocco to Brazil to Russia, you’ll encounter a myriad of different tournaments on different surfaces, and play against a vast number of varied and interesting opponents. There is a bit of a management side to this mode as well. You choose what to do each week and how to spend your earned experience points in order to improve your character’s stats.
Some players will sit on the baseline and hammer away at you with a power game, others will serve and volley, some are opportunistic, others are quite predictable. The variation in the broad types of players that you will face as well as the individual tendencies in each opponent makes the game stand head and shoulders above other indie tennis games that I have played. It pays to do your homework and study your opponent well before each match. That way you can choose to mix up your game or attack a perceived weakness. Don’t like playing on clay? Then skip that tournament in Spain, pack up and head Down Under for a hardcourt tournament. Need to work on your backhand? Then take a week off and put some practice time in. The choice is all yours.
Although the management side of the game is not as expansive as in New Star Tennis, there is enough choice presented to the player that they feel in control of their career. Similarly, although the graphics, animations and physics are somewhat inferior to Full Ace Tennis, they are still of very good quality and deserve praise. Being able to customise the appearance and abilities of your player right down to the smallest detail is a lot of fun and adds a great deal of playability to the title. Also, the ladies have not been overlooked in this game and a full year of women’s events is available right there side by side with the men’s competitions. Davis Cup ties, and of course all of the Grand Slam events await you as well. Fancy trying to beat the world famous Woodies record in doubles? That option is available to you in Tennis Elbow 2011. Will you evolve as a specialist doubles player or try to forge a career as an all round superstar? The sheer amount of choice and scope for tennis fans to customise their experience with the game is a credit to the developers.
If you are indeed planning to take on Rafa Nadal or Roger Federer (real players appear under their real names!) for that world number one spot, then you’d better settle in for the long haul. A career in Tennis Elbow will literally last for months. After a week or so of steady play, I’ve now played through 14 tournaments (including qualifiers) and have one title to my name! Winning the F2 event in Paris in front of a few cheering spectators is not going to allow me to face anyone in the top 100 for a while yet, but it’s a start. The feeling of beginning as a promising junior player and having to grind your way up the rankings is superbly simulated, but not an experience that will satisfy those who just want to have a hit as a superstar at the US Open. Although there are one off multiplayer matches, and a practice mode to hone your skills, there is no “instant action” mode and you cannot play as an existing player in the database.
Control of the game is far less frustrating that that in Full Ace Tennis, yet allows for a better balanced learning curve and more tactical options than the simplified (and in my opinion somewhat game-breaking) control scheme of New Star Tennis. There are a dozen or so shot types as well as a few modifiers that are applied depending on what type of player your avatar is. You can choose from archetypes like “Puncher”, “Volleyer” or “Defender” but your player can be further customised within these broad groups. You can use a gamepad, mouse or keyboard to control the action - I personally prefer the latter. Positioning, shot type, aiming, fatigue and even a little bit of luck are all factors in gameplay, and the balance here is perfect. The game will reward solid play, but risks can often pay dividends too. Line calls can sometimes appear not to go the way that they should, but this too just adds to the realism and immersion offered.
Lots of little details make the game a winner. Players can be controlled to make gestures at the end of a point like a fist pump after a winner up the line, or killing a few brain cells on their racquet after the opponent has slid by yet another ace in the corner. Crowds will “Ohh” and “Ahh” at just the right times, and applaud and cheer in many different ways depending on the outcome of the point. Changing ends will result in the screen display becoming subtly more bright and glary when hitting into the direction of the sun. It’s just a very solid and professional presentation.
The ranking system can be difficult to understand. This is my main gripe with the game. There’s an “entry” ranking and a “race” ranking. The way these two ranking systems affect each other is a bit of a mystery to me. The documentation has been written by a non-native English speaker, and although it is adequate in communicating vital information, some sentences are a little vague and some concepts and features are omitted altogether. For instance, there is an option to enable split screen multiplayer (actually, I’m guessing this is what it does) but I can’t for the life of me work out how to enable hotseat multiplayer at all. I can start an internet or LAN game, but there were consistently no multiplayer games available to join whenever I looked. Music does not work for me. If I enable the option and click on “apply”, it simply switches off again almost instantly - a bit of a mystery.
In all honesty, I would probably turn the music off after a while anyway in a game like this, and multiplayer games, in any case, would not really showcase the real beauty of the game. The career mode is the only real way to play. I can’t praise it more highly. It’s fun and addictive to play. The difficulty can be customised to an incredible degree so that the player can set up a challenge for themselves that will be just right. This is due to a good AI which is varied and adaptable to different play-styles. On the sum of its parts Tennis Elbow 2011 is the king of tennis sims on the market. Other games might best it in certain niche areas, but overall, Tennis Elbow 2011 provides the most comprehensive and detailed simulation of the sport that does not allow fun to take a back seat. Mana Games - have a Bytten Gold Star.
Keywords: tennis elbow 2011 review, mana games reviews, mana games games, tennis elbow 2011 scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.