AO Tennis 2 is a game I desperately wanted to love. It’s been nine years since the last great tennis sim released in the form of Top Spin 4, and while there have a been a few attempts to replicate its excellent gameplay, nothing has come close.
While AO Tennis 2 tries to build on the foundation the first iteration of the game with a wealth of customization options and features, it’s ultimately hamstrung by buggy, frustrating, imprecise gameplay that makes matches feel like a frustrating chore.
AO Tennis 2 uses a gameplay system that’s based on three elements: timing, positioning and aiming. Timing and positioning are straightforward. The timing part requires you to hold down your selected shot button, charging up power and releasing it when the ball is in the sweet spot, indicated by a red dot next to your character that changes from red to varying shades of yellow and green . Positioning couples with that, requiring you to move your player into the correct spot to hit the ball with maximum efficacy.
This shouldn’t be difficult, but more times than I cared to count, the game either didn’t move my player when I told it to or simply refused to swing the racquet, leaving the ball to drop at my character’s feet or whiz past him. The frequency that happened was inexcusable, but coupled with the third gameplay element, AO Tennis 2 bordered on unplayable at times.
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Aiming, the third part of gameplay, requires players to follow a targeting reticle on the opposite side of the net from their player. It’s affected by player timing and positioning, as well as where you want to aim the shot. Unlike the timing and positioning factors, there’s nothing buggy about aiming; it’s the design choice that’s problematic.
To start with, it’s impossible to watch the top and bottom of your screen simultaneously, meaning you can’t monitor both the aiming marker and timing circle. Secondly, even if you’re just watching the targeting icon, mistiming your swing can send the ball flying off target from where the game says it’s going to land. Trying it the other way isn’t any better because by watching your player to get the timing correct, you can’t focus on where the ball is going to land or where the opposing player is.
It makes for tedious, frustrating gameplay, and while you have the option of turning the targeting indicator off, that still doesn’t change the overall mechanic of the game. Ironically, the game doesn’t provide a targeting indicator on your side of the net, which makes telling the depth of your opponent’s shot difficult in its own right.
Some of these issues aren’t prevalent on the lower difficulties, but that presents its own peculiarity. There are eight different difficulty settings, ranging from mindlessly easy to you-need-to-actually-be-Roger-Federer-to-play-this-game mode. Regardless of what setting you choose, there’s a recurring pattern of the computer making an unrealistically low number of errors and the game’s imprecision causing you to make an unrealistically high amount.
What I’m about to write next somehow makes AO Tennis 2’s gameplay issues worse: The rest of the game is really good. Superb player models and customization, the ability to download user-created content, a robust career mode and the ability to pause matches at any point and pick up where you left off are quality-of-life features that more sports games should implement. There’s even a stadium creator.
The mini games in AO Tennis 2 also offer a neat take on tennis training, serving as both a tutorial and way of progression in career mode. The career mode itself has its own type of story, not unlike the NBA 2K series or FIFA’s journey mode. It also requires players to manage their money, training and travel schedules, and the customization options to deck out your character in the best fashion and accessories give a terrific visual flare.
The game’s audio is equally solid to match the visuals and features, and AO Tennis 2’s soundtrack is spot-on. There’s so much excellent content here that it makes the subpar gameplay so upsetting. A more simplified approach with fewer bugs, and AO Tennis 2 would finally take the torch from Top Spin 4.
Ultimately, AO Tennis 2 winds up something that has incredible potential that’s wasted by questionable development choices and buggy gameplay. When it works — are there are glorious moments shining through when it does — it hurts to see how good this game could be. But a lack of consistency in execution leads to far more frustration than it’s worth.