Call it what you will - whether irony, fate or destiny - but when I was plucked from post-University obscurity by someone who should have known better, AMIGA POWER was fielding Tennis Champs on its lead coverdisk.
That was then (AP52. - Ed) and this is now (AP56. - Ed). In the space of four issues, Tennis Champs has visited the local deed poll office and added a Super in a remarkably poor attempt to conceal its identity. But why the name change at all? Following its exposure on our coverdisk, Audiogenic bought the game from Mental Software with the intent of buffing it up and releasing it themselves, which, by complicated legal means, resulted in their being in thrall to the SINISTER EVIL MEGA-GLOBAL CORPORATION THAT PULLS THE STRINGS OF AMIGA POWER until they paid back what we'd paid for the game. Good grief. But anyway
Audiogenic, I am pleased to report, have succeeded. Super Tennis Champs is palpably buffed and demonstrably superer, and will often take you on a frighteningly enjoyable ascent to heaven and occasionally dump you, crestfallen into THE PITS OF HELL.
As a general rule, the sign of a good game is when everyone in the AP office gathers around a single screen to make noises, and Super Tennis Champs has had such an effect. It managed effortlessly to attract attention from other magazines, had ("Lunks" - Ed") coming in off the streets, and Bet Gilroy and other world leaders stood around gawping in amazement as Kras thumped another forehand into the net (because he's crap) and cheering the mind-numbingly fast and furious rallies between the likes of Mac and Greg (who are good). They've all gone now, of course, back to their meths or campaigns of nuking New Zealand, but they were here. Why would I lie to you? They were.
Still desperately trying to shake off my New Prod Ed tag, I'm not going to do myself any favours by readily admitting that I'm not particularly brilliant at any Amiga games - suffering regular and humiliating defeats on footy games, crashing on the first bend of racing games and getting myself killed instantly in a Doom clone before I've had so much as the chance to utter "What am I meant to do?" But hey, I'm a Prod Ed, and before I arrived here the only game I'd ever mastered was Amsoft's 3D Grand Prix on the CPC 6128.
But with Super Tennis Champs I found myself rallying away like a star, and (occasionally) outplaying a singles computer opponent in a singles computer opponent in SHEER SHOT SKILL.
The strengths of Super Tennis Champs, you see, lie in its simple approach to a traditional and boring game which everyone seems to play around Wimbledon time before putting away their racquets and spending the next 11 months wondering why Britain never produces any decent homegrown talent - it makes fun. It's terrifically accessible and the Gladstone bag of options 'serve' (ho, ho) not only the tennis aficionados but EVERYONE. Including, for example, me.
Take the service. There are two service modes - easy and pro. You can see where you're aiming an 'easy' (a little target appears - extremely helpful, but fairly useless against another human) but can swerve a 'pro' (fiendishly difficult, but appallingly effective).
Advantages and disadvantages, and that. (Although one thing that irked me was that a computer player always served in 'pro' mode. C 'mon guys - fair's fair, and all the rest of that snivelling nonsense. If I'm new to the game, I want to see where the service is going. Tch.)
Once you've served successfully (using whichever mode you see fit) the ball is likely to return pacily to the baseline. There are four shots you can play - normal, topspin, slice and lob. There's no keyboard option (slightly annoying when it comes to four-player games, but more of that later) and to get all the shots using a one-button joystick requires a cunning fire button technique (shots are made depending on your pressing, double-pressing or holding down fire) and a lot of 'context-sensitivity' (the computer deciding what you want to do depending on where your opponent is - a bit of jiggery-pokery that largely works).
The major failing of this control method is that when you're at the back of the court you naturally slap down on fire in the belief it'll make the ball go further - instead, it's interpreted as a 'drifter' and your shot spills into the net.
Owners of CD32 pads have the luxury of a shot per button, but I don't much like it. It's too easy to become preoccupied with one shot. (Jonathan disagrees fiercely, pointing out that instead of worrying about hitting buttons a number of times, you can easily perform any shot at any time, so it's obviously personal preference).
My choice of control method is the two-button joystick. It's easier than the one-button method (you effectively get a spot more time to ponder a shot, and while you still have to double-press fire you don't have to hold it down) while being instinctive enough to plan ahead. (Although I still can't smash from the baseline, which players like Julius can do with fearsome regularity. Grrrr.)
Everyone seems to play around
The four-player game, then. Up to three of the players can be computer characters, and you can elect to play with or against a convenient human. (You can, of course, have four human players, but you'll be better off with at least one computer character until you've got the hang of the game, otherwise you'll find your rallies disappointingly shot and the match decided on aces - as tediously as in real life. Ensure each player is competent, however, and the four-player mode is astoundingly good fun.)
Thinking it would be a good opportunity to practise for that evening's badminton session, Sue and I opted to play as Greg and Jules - two of the best players - against Kras and Buzz, the East European Combo. We lost. Love-six. But we didn't care, it was fantastic fun, and to prove it the next three hours were spent trying to take at least ONE GAME from any computer paring, trying out against each character in turn and attempting to exploit his weaknesses. (We failed. But we didn't care. Etc.)
But hold on. His weaknesses? I found the omission of women from Super Tennis Champs a profound disappointment. This isn't because of any pervy predilection that I have for the opposite sex, though they are extremely nice, it's just that so much good work has gone into representing most races on this earth that it's sad to see Audiogenic throw it away by having no female tennis players.
Fortunately, our good pal Elton Bird tells of moves afoot to produce character disks for women players and mixed doubles, as well as an editor for the existing players. (Audiogenic are strangely reticent about releasing such disks - perhaps a show of appreciation from AP readers will sway their oddly obligue minds). In the meantime, you can always resort to choosing Stan - after all, most English tennis players play like big girls.
Lemon meringue pie like my mum's
And so to the tourneys. There's a ridiculously comprehensive grand slam - up to 16 players can take part - and doubles players can try out in the leagues. A decidedly Good Thing is that you can take the part of any computer player at any time - flicking nonchalantly through the early round results, for example, then deciding to throw away Roger's chances by TAKING HIM OVER for that important semi-final.
As AMIGA POWER has said time and again, it's the details in a game that count. Alert readers will recall that in our preview of Super Tennis Champs we came up with improvements that could be implemented. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Mental Software had already put them in by the time we suddenly remembered to ring and tell them.
"Player tantrums," we suggested.
"Already in," they said. "Press fire after losing a point and your player swings his racquet bad-temperedly. But only for A1200 owners. And if you win a point, you can raise your hand triumphantly (or in the manner of an evil villain falling into his own atomic reactor, comic fans) in the same way." (We paraphrase them, if it's not already obvious.)
"And replays," we added. "With slow-motion, rewind and freeze-frame," they countered triumphantly. "And Vinnie Vega too," we concluded. "Yup," they said, "He's in. Lanky black hair and everything." OR SO THEY THOUGHT
Truly they are stars. Although I for one dislike the replay in that there's no fast-forward and it shows the entire rally - particularly annoying if you have to sit through 30 or so shots to get to the final smash you want. Why not just have limited it to the last four shots? (But what if you want to see the whole rally? Tsk. - Ed.)
And, of course, it still has the splendid scrolling court (the court fits in its entirety on screen, but can scroll around slightly to follow the ball in a pleasing manner) and bleepy line calls which we had seen (and heard) before.
I strongly advise that you do everything in your power to play Super Tennis Champs (though I'm not advocating stealing old ladies' purses or advertising yourself for the sexual gratification of others, perish the thought). It's a hoot in one-player mode (if hellishly hard) and with four players is easily the most fun you can have fully-dressed, and, we hear, pretty damn good undressed as well, a joke I can make because I'm new.
If I had to personify this game I would do so thus. It's female, it looks (and sing) like Belinda Carlisle, it supports Notts County and it cooks lemon meringue pie just like my mum's. But don't let that put you off. Buy it.