Sony

AO International Tennis (PS4)

Tennis doesn’t need the broadcast energy of other pro sports. Kintecism happens organically on the court. Lucky then for AO International Tennis, the dearth of personality isn’t crippling.

Players fist pump after a successful point. They look dejected and defeated when losing. Nothing else really moves. Ball boys kneel next to the judge and never go for the ball. Line judges take a shot to the groin without acknowledgment; they’re a tough group. In the audience, no one seems to care until game, set, match is called. Broadcasters hit a replay button on occasion but otherwise must focus on their mobile phone.

This tepid interest around the sport falls into a career mode. It’s not only frill-less as much as straining to maintain interest. AO International Tennis never jumps beyond watching numbers rise. That’s both player skill and ranking. Any elation is on the part of whoever holds the controller. While Virtua Tennis and Top Spin treated tennis with a bit of kook, AO International Tennis is serious.

So it’s plain. Remarkably dry, empty, and static. That’s okay. AO International Tennis understands the sport. Unique mechanisms treat tennis as a multitude of necessary functions. Timing of a return matters as much as position. Stamina management ties into power. Placement allows for definite precision, along with dynamic risk/reward. There’s plenty of energy here.

It’s a smart tennis system, even if it’s often fighting with itself. Movement is tied into aim, requiring a touch of controller gymnastics to master, but unlike tennis videogame rivals, end results mimic the reality of on-court play. Small UI touches serve as persistent learning tools while the process plays out. There’s satisfaction when conquering opponents; AO International Tennis makes success a result of skill. The arcade edge that defined this small sports genre is lost, but not the results.

AO International Tennis focuses where it needs to. That’s where it matters. Even if the dull cycle of menus posing as a career lacks pizzazz, at least there’s bite off the racket.

3/5

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