AO Tennis Review

By Mark Delaney,
There's been a Top Spin-sized hole in the Xbox marketplace for a while now. The once great tennis simulator has been absent for over half a decade, and stepping into its place is AO Tennis. It's blatantly lacking in some important areas, like presentation and the range of events on offer, but its on-court gameplay is solid and fun, which keeps it an easy recommendation in the tennis-depleted modern console landscape.

AO Tennis key art

AO Tennis is focused mostly on the Australian Open, hence the name, and right away that indicates one problem with the game: it lacks a lot of options one would expect to be present. With high profile cover stars like Angelique Kerber and Rafael Nadal, you may expect to see all your favorite players, tournaments, and stadia in AO Tennis, but in truth, there are a lot of gaps. The Australian Open is the only one of the four major tournaments in the game as Big Ant Studios lacks the license for the others. A similar problem seems to explain why so many of tennis' biggest stars are absent. No Federer, Svitolina, or other current stars is a big blemish, while the lack of past stars like Agassi or the Williams sisters hurts too, as tennis games have so often paid tribute to the sport's rich history.

Without these important licenses, the roster, stadium selection, and career mode are all hindered by a considerable degree, but these issues are somewhat salvaged by very deep creation suites. You can create players and stadia with a great deal of customization, akin to similar options in much bigger budget sports games. With enough dedication, you could bring anyone you're missing right into the game by creating them yourself. The same goes for venues. If you really want to recreate your favorite destinations, there's a lot of wiggle room to bring those places to life. Most importantly, you can even download creations from other users, which is extremely helpful as the community seems prepared to fill in the holes left by the developer. There's already a wealth of awesome user creations available that really help negate this otherwise glaring issue.

Custom creations turn a what would be a major problem into a minor added step.Custom creations turn a what would be a major problem into a minor added step.

If you can overlook these licensing issues, or just plug in the gaps, the actual gameplay is well worth your time. Tennis has been long gone from Xbox, and although as I write this we now have two in the marketplace, early reviews seem to indicate the other one is quite a disaster on the court. That's not the case with AO Tennis. It feels much like the favorite simulations of years past with modern innovations. Serve and shot types have long been standard, but the pinpoint accuracy now available to players who really master the controls feels awesome.

You're really able to master this part of the game thanks to dependable physics and two control schemes that will each have their supporters. Whether you like using the dual stick approach, or serving and rallying with the face buttons, they're both well designed and thankfully never a hindrance, allowing the on-court moments to shine in a way that may even be nostalgic for tennis fans who've longed for a good simulator on Xbox One. Getting your opponent to do the run-around as you mix in lobs over their head, lateral slices across the court, and crippling topspin shots among others, feels immensely satisfying when done right.

Which one is shinier? The Brookes Cup or the glistening Nadal?Which one is shinier? The Brookes Cup or the glistening Nadal?

The on-court side of things is still lacking in presentation, unfortunately, as there is no commentary track, and the pre-match introductions and post-match celebrations hardly ever change at all. Winning the Open will get you a brief cinematic where you kiss the trophy, but other than that, the animations and crowd reactions are hardly different whether you're in the deciding set of the Australian Open or an exhibition match. Notably, the crowd does get more excited on particularly long rallies, which is fun, but for the most part AO Tennis fails to capture the weight of your career highlights.

The achievement list will come pretty easily for the first half, then requires you grind out the rest for the full 1000 G. Winning a game with different shot types will come naturally, and you'll want to win at least four Australian Opens, once with each cover star, once in doubles, and once with a created player. Hitting 1,000 aces, backhand winners, forehand winners, and other such grinds will ensure you stick around for more than just a few hours, although it's worth noting the customization options in each match or tournament mean you can greatly shorten or lengthen every match to your liking, which can help various achievements either way.

Summary

AO Tennis is the go-to tennis sim for Xbox One players right now. It's far from perfect, but it most importantly gets the on-court gameplay right thanks to physics and accuracy that can really be mastered by players. While presentation and a lack of major events leave a lot to be desired, the creation suite saves the game from being a lot less enjoyable. The athlete and stadium options have major gaps, but a dedicated community of players has already filled virtually all gaps one could think of with fantastic custom creations that can be shared easily. You won't feel especially storied playing out the sparse career mode, but if you need a modern tennis sim with strong on-court gameplay, AO Tennis is an ace.
3.5 / 5
AO Tennis
Positives
  • Solid on-court gameplay ready to be mastered
  • Create-a-player and create-a-stadium modes go very deep, even allowing community creations to be shared simply and quickly
Negatives
  • Lacks other major events outside of the Australian Open
  • Not much in the way of presentation -- winning the Australian Open or winning an exhibition match hardly feels different
Ethics
The reviewer spent 8 hours on the various courts of AO Tennis, winning the Australian Open and other career matches. He collected 17 of 29 achievements for 500 Gamerscore. An Xbox One code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for GameSkinny, Gamesradar and the Official Xbox Magazine. He runs the family-oriented gaming site Game Together.