The thought of a video game that combines fighters and the sport of tennis would usually seem odd on the surface, but TDO Games is leaning into it. Tennis Fighters is being sold by the studio as a “new game genre [that] mixes a tennis game and fighting game. You will find a great tennis game with the action and effects of a fighting game.” And for a game that’s been in the works for roughly two years, you can see a unique game taking shape here with Tennis Fighters early access.
Here are some hands-on impressions from my time spent with Tennis Fighters.
Fighters, Courts, And Game Modes
Tennis Fighters currently has four game modes. This includes Academy, World Tour, online multiplayer and offline multiplayer. Academy is where you can train and learn the ropes. This is essential for anyone who hopes to have success. World Tour is a season-style game mode. Online and offline multiplayer are exactly what they sound like.
In the early access build, you can choose between five different fighters. The loading screen reminds me of a classic fighting game as you toggle through available players. And, yes, there’s also a robot character. The players, obviously look and feel like old school fighters as well. To put it another way, most of the fighters give off the vibe of being a cross between Sub-Zero and Pete Sampras.
There are six different stadiums in the game: Training, Urban, Military, London, Colosseum and Academy. My favorite to use is the Urban arena, though if you’re looking for something a bit more realistic, London is clearly the court for you. Overall, each arena looks great and feels different from one court to another.
For an indie game developed by a small studio, the first thing I noticed was how crisp the game looked. No, this wasn’t some photo-realistic representation of the sport, but for a game that is clearly stated as a mix between fighting and tennis, TDO hit the mark.
During the match, things look, feel and sound like I would hope from a sports game. And if things are not up to your standards, you’re able to customize a little bit of everything to accommodate your needs. Heck, players even grunt and celebrate as though you’re playing Tekken Tag Tournament. I think TDO has the presentation down already and is focused in the right areas for this style of game.
It’s the gameplay that needs a little more tweaking and tuning.
A game can look and feel the part, but if the gameplay still doesn’t live up to those same high standards, there could be a problem. And, admittedly for me, it took a little bit of time before I managed to get a handle of the controls. After those growing pains, it was very rewarding to properly run to a spot and hit a forearm smash right past my opponent.
The game uses a power meter, similar to what you remember from old-school Madden kicking meters. Release or click at the top of the meter for maximum power. However, while you wait for the bar to fill, you must direct your shot as well. This isn’t too difficult or tricky when you’re serving, but while a ball is coming your way, it can be extremely difficult to nail these components of a swing.
Getting the timing down was the hardest thing. I would find myself running to the spot and completely whiffing as the ball trickled past me. Once I eventually got this down, it became much more comfortable. But it was still a challenge to locate the ball, run to that spot, pick your shot, navigate the meter and direct it all in a few seconds. On some level, I can see some people enjoying these growing pains, but mechanics-wise it just feels like things need to be tightened up a little more to make the tactile feel and response coincide more with what I expect to happen moment to moment.
Gameplay aside, the overall idea that you can defeat your opponent in a traditional manner or by slowly inflicting damage on your opponent’s health by winning points is smart. One other thing to note is you’re not actually “fighting” in the game. The concept is you “fight” by beating opponents down by winning point after point. There is an “energy” component like you might see in a Mario Tennis game where you are building up for more powerful shot types that you can unleash when you have enough energy.
In the end, there’s a lot to like about Tennis Fighters. But for me, the hardest thing to overcome is how frustrating the controls can be. I understand the developers want to differentiate from other tennis games and keep things true to the sport. But unless you put in the time in or have played some of the more intricate tennis games on the market, the learning curve could be a negative to some.
Tennis Fighters is a unique game that’s worth getting your hands on if you’re looking for something fresh. That being said, if TDO does not make the gameplay a little more accommodating, some may never give it a chance.
I enjoyed my time with Tennis Fighters and look forward to what TDO continues to add to the game in the months ahead.
Tennis Fighters early access is available now on Steam. You can get it for $7.99 USD as of the time of this early access look.