With Wimbledon well underway, fans around the world have tennis on their mind. With everyone’s focus on the legendary grand slam, now is the perfect time to release a tennis game. A sentiment that publisher Kalypso Media clearly agrees with, with its recent launch of Matchpoint – Tennis Championships.
When it comes to video games, tennis hasn’t received the same treatment that football, soccer, and basketball all have. When compared to sports titans like Madden NFL and FIFA, no tennis game has ever reached the same commercial heights. I’d even go as far as to say the most successful tennis game of all time was probably Wii Sports, and that says a lot. Since Top Spin was effectively discontinued by 2K in 2011, there hasn’t really been a good tennis game. The worst part is that most of the good tennis games of the past were never released on PC, giving us even fewer options to work with.
With that taken into account, Matchpoint – Tennis Championships looks to be an appealing option. It’s a serious tennis simulator backed by a relatively big publisher. After such a huge drought, tennis fans are sure to be excited at the prospect of a new game. Unfortunately, Matchpoint – Tennis Championships is not the game that everybody was waiting for.
Stepping onto the court
The gameplay aspects of Matchpoint are actually pretty good. The general flow of each game feels natural and does a good job of replicating real-life tennis. As an added bonus, the mechanics are also really easy to pick up, making Matchpoint an exceptionally accessible game. A big part of that accessibility is the excellent controls.
After half an hour or so you’ll probably be able to jump in and compete in any match that career mode throws at you. The process of selecting a suitable shot and aiming it is seamless. If your shot lands out or you fail to clear the net, it’s almost always your own fault. These well-executed controls also provide a great foundation for allowing you to play how you want. You can be an aggressive baseline player, specialize in volleys near the net, or go for a more rounded all-court playstyle.
The on-court strengths of Matchpoint – Tennis Championships are evident, but the fun doesn’t last long. A big problem with Matchpoint is that it fails to accommodate all audiences. Relative newcomers and those with less experience with sports games will have a good time. However, if you’re looking for a new sports title that pushes you to master its mechanics to reach the top, Matchpoint isn’t going to deliver.
Day one domination
Like mentioned, I was able to take on the game’s hardest difficulty against the highest-ranked players after a few hours. Even though my player had low-rated attributes, I was still able to consistently come out on top. The unfortunate truth is that Matchpoint gives players so much control over their shot that with practice you just become too good. I’m able to land 75% plus of my shots exactly on the line every time, making it impossible for the AI to keep up.
You can turn off the aim marker to make things a little trickier, but that doesn’t fix the problem. Play another hour or so with this assist disabled and you’ll start dominating again. In the short term, Matchpoint‘s lack of difficulty isn’t a huge issue, but it could be fatal for this game’s longevity.
FIFA has a complex tactics system and team building that can completely change how a match plays out. NBA 2K challenges its players to master the dribbling mechanics, specialize in a specific archetype, and learn how to consistently time their jump shot. Madden pushes you to understand football and call effective plays on both offense and defense.
It’s these more technical aspects of the big sports games that keep players coming back, wanting to get better to work towards an eventual goal. Matchpoint – Tennis Championships doesn’t have an equivalent. None of its mechanics are hard enough to master, which largely invalidates My Career’s entire progression. If I can already match up against everyone with base thirty stats while barely ranking in the top 200, why would I bother to improve my attributes and equipment? The gameplay might flow well, but that doesn’t mean that it’s balanced well.
Not the right play
For whatever reason, certain, seemingly important, content didn’t make the cut in Matchpoint. Most bizarre of all is the complete absence of any doubles tennis. Doubles play is a key part of what tennis is about, so having a simulation game choose to not include it is strange. It would be like having a basketball game without 5v5 or a golf game with no 18-hole courses.
Despite this, Matchpoint – Tennis Championships does come with a fully-featured ranked mode. It even has placement matches as though this will be the next big competitive game. I appreciate the optimism, but I’m afraid I can’t see this game ever having an active competitive audience. Although the inclusion of fully supported cross-play does make it more likely that the playerbase will remain active enough for this inclusion to make some sense. Only time will tell if this was a good decision.
Regardless, it’s frustrating to see resources put into the wrong parts of the game. I guarantee you that if there were no multiplayer modes but doubles and a more fleshed-out My Career were present, this would be a far better game. That’s not to say that those two things are equally difficult to implement, but the point is that I’m not convinced that the right modes were focused on.
Far from a fault
I’d describe Matchpoint – Tennis Championships as a minimalist port. That is to say, it’s far from extraordinary, but it doesn’t do nearly enough wrong to be offensive. It supports higher resolutions, has separate options for textures, crowd details, and shadows as well as the choice to enable or disable V-Sync and anti-aliasing. There are no advanced graphics settings like DLSS or ray tracing, but I don’t think many people expect that from a $40 USD sports game. Especially since it’s not as though the big-budget AAA sports game bother to implement those features either.
Performance-wise, Matchpoint runs wonderfully. At 1440p, max settings an RTX 2060 can maintain over 100 FPS. Any GPU equivalent to or better than the RTX 2070 will rarely experience drops below 144 fps even at max settings making it easy to take advantage of monitors with a higher refresh rate. Matchpoint – Tennis Championships also scales exceptionally to budget graphics cards, with even a GTX 1060 6GB delivering a smooth 60 fps. This is partially because Matchpoint is well optimized and partially because it’s not that much of a looker. Even so, Matchpoint‘s visuals are fine enough and serve their purpose. Besides, the visuals can largely be overlooked thanks to the impressive variety of animations that help elevate the game’s overall presentation to levels not often seen at this price point.
Game, set, but not match
At least for the first few hours, Matchpoint – Tennis Championships is a fun tennis game. It is presented well and offers intuitive controls that are easy to pick up. Unfortunately, that charm wears off quickly due to the game’s lack of complexity and unchallenging gameplay. It doesn’t take long to be able to win every match, at which point you have nothing to work towards. The presence of a ranked multiplayer mode may alleviate Matchpoint‘s lack of replayability, but it’s unlikely that this will ever be a popular competitive game. Matchpoint – Tennis Championships might be the best tennis game we’ve had in years, but sadly, that says more about the state of the genre than it does this game.