Preview: Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip

Playing Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip at E3 gave me a small taste of the frustration 16-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer must have experienced after failing to beat his rival, Rafael Nadal, the past several years. Regardless of how prepared I felt going into a match, Hugo (clearly the greatest computer-controlled tennis player of all time) found a way to not only achieve seemingly impossible comebacks, but to make me look like an uncoordinated fool in defeat.

I've never been this bad at a tennis video game, leaving me to wonder if Get a Grip is supposed to be a precise simulation, or if something's wrong.
%Gallery-96116% My troubles began and ended with the controls. Sega's Virtua Tennis series (not exactly the poster child for realism) moves much more quickly, allowing players to fly across the court to make inhuman recoveries. Get a Grip is the exact opposite; it forced me to maneuver my character to the ball's exact location -- not an easy thing to do with a slow-moving avatar. As a result, I lost a ton of points because of the false expectation that my tennis player would zip back and forth (even dive) to return serve.

As for hitting the ball, Get a Grip uses all of the PSP face buttons. Each time the ball crosses the net, an icon surrounds it (triangle, circle, X or square). To make a play for the ball, my best bet was to hit the corresponding symbol on the controller, but I also successfully volleyed by tapping something different. Unfortunately, the Sony rep couldn't go into detail on how the volleying system works.

Naturally, I shouldn't expect every tennis game to contain super-human athletes and user-friendly controls, but Get a Grip's designers clearly sacrificed arcade-style fun for a form of realism that may cripple my enjoyment of the game. It's strange juxtaposed with the cartoon-style graphics, too. Instead of playing within a digital recreation of Roland Garros, site of the French Open, the demo took place on a farm (not pictured), complete with sunflowers and a tractor. Bottom line: There's a stark contrast between how Get a Grip looks and the way that it plays.

It's a shame, really, because Get a Grip could be a deep and rewarding sports game. My character earned experience points in spite of losing and unlocked a Santa Claus cap that spiced up his wardrobe. Being fashion-forward takes a backseat to quality gameplay, though, and I'm not convinced Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip has what it takes to beat the Virtua Tennis competition. We'll find out June 29.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.