Australia’s Nick Kyrgios is the top spun maverick of the tennis world, a controversy-courting Happy Gilmore-like figure who doesn’t so much as march to the beat of his own drum as strap on a pair of bright-red basketball sneakers and shamelessly stomp all over Wimbledon’s stuffy, all-white traditions. His prominent placement on the cover of Matchpoint: Tennis Championships sets the expectation that developer Torus Games’ debut tennis simulation is poised to finally shake things up for the stagnating tennis genre… but sadly, that hasn’t proven to be the case. A smooth yet imbalanced style of play, uninspiring career mode, and surprisingly limited multiplayer support means the only trait that Matchpoint shares with its provocative cover star is an overriding sense of squandered potential.
To its credit, Matchpoint’s uncluttered control setup makes it supremely easy to pick up. Your player’s movement is heavily assisted so that you only need to nudge the thumbstick in the general direction of a returned ball and they’ll be automatically guided to the ideal position in order to meet it. This allows you to keep your focus squarely on your opponent’s side of the court, where you can steer around a dinner plate-sized reticle and pull off a standard array of tennis shots with a level of pinpoint accuracy that goes beyond Djokavic to border on Jedi levels of precision.
It’s a rally system that’s certainly reliable and offers you plenty of freedom, but it’s also one that’s a bit too easy to master since it’s all reward and very little risk. The window for timing your shots is exceedingly generous, and you’re not really penalized in any way for overcooking a shot or serve. There are probably computerized ball machines that have made more unforced errors than I have in my 20 or so hours played – you almost have to go out of your way to actually hit the ball outside of the lines, and can pull off crosscourt shots at impossible angles without batting an eyelid. So yes, Matchpoint successfully makes me feel like some sort of hard-tuned tennis terminator… But when you’re confident you can nail a passing shot from almost anywhere it results in rallies that have about as much tension as a tennis racquet strung with spaghetti.
Ball Too Easy
The ability to paint the lines so effortlessly is also detrimental to Matchpoint’s career mode, since it makes the progression system seem almost entirely unnecessary. While my created player began with modest levels of shot power and spin, his accuracy was laser-guided from the outset. That meant that from day one on the tour I was hitting about 50 clear winners for every one that landed wide. The size of the aiming reticle and your unerring ability to hit it remains consistent throughout, and even with the difficulty dialed up to the highest setting I stormed my way to seven consecutive tournament victories and was world number one within the first few months of my career; this despite having completed just one of the stat-boosting training mini-games along the way.
Admittedly it’s something of a blessing that these training mini-games can be skipped, since they’re either utterly mundane (like when you have to play a game of Simon Says for groundstrokes) or clumsily implemented (like the drill for serving aces that puts you up against a receiver standing so wide of the service box they may as well be signing autographs). But completing these simple training drills is about as deep as the management aspect of Matchpoint’s career goes, which made me feel pretty uninvested in my player’s success. There are no sponsorship deals to consider or injury niggles to take into account, and instead you basically just roll from one indistinct, unlicensed tennis tournament to the next, snatching up more silverware than a sticky-fingered butler in Buckingham Palace.
At least I assume the trophies are silver, because Matchpoint doesn’t actually ever show them to you. While the animations of the players are smooth and the courtside detail is crisp, there’s a noticeable lack of life and no real sense of occasion imbued in each competition, with every tournament culminating in the same static result screen. There’s no trophy presentation after a final, no handshakes between players, no statistical overlays in the broadcast presentation, and the small handful of faces in the crowd are so heavily reused it’s almost as though the stadium tickets were having a “buy one get two free” promotions for sets of identical triplets.
Similar cosmetic limitations are also inflicted on your created player. With just a handful of heads and haircuts to choose from, and no option to customise service motions or grunts of exertion, it’s almost impossible to produce anyone other than either John or Jane Smith from the United States of Generica. Even worse, while the 18 licensed professionals in Matchpoint each come dressed in branded gear from the likes of Nike and Adidas, the clothing and equipment available to your player is of the strictly no-name variety. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you strut out onto centre court surrounded by advertising boards from big names like Asics and Wilson, and you’re clad in a t-shirt and shorts that seem fresh from your mum’s sewing machine, clutching an off-brand tennis racket that appears to have been bought from a dodgy ad on Facebook.
Plays of the Weak
While you occasionally come up against real-world guns like Daniil Medvedev and Taylor Fritz on the men’s tour, and Victoria Azarenka and Madison Keys on the women’s, an overwhelming number of matches in Matchpoint’s career are played against fictional opponents. While it’s pretty hard to tell these carbon-copy competitors apart since they’re cut from the same restricted character creation toolset as your avatar, Matchpoint does at least attempt to inject some individuality into each of them by giving them a handful of strengths and weaknesses that can be uncovered during a match.
You don’t get to intuitively identify these traits, mind you, but rather they are spelled out by a distracting splash of text that pops up in the top-right corner of the screen mid-rally. One opponent might get impatient during a prolonged exchange and have a tendency to rush the net, for example, while another might start serving harder the more aces they rack up in a service game. It’s an interesting idea on paper, but in practice it had very little effect on how I approached each point, and because of that it felt like an artificial way to force a change in strategy that wasn’t ever actually required. Each AI opponent I faced may as well have had a weakness for red velvet cupcakes for all the difference it made to how I played against them, as I consistently worked each of them out of position before biffing another perfectly placed winner a few millimeters inside the baseline.
Desperate for a modicum of challenge I eventually tried disabling the aiming marker entirely in the options menu, but targeting by feel alone shifted shot difficulty so far in the other direction that it only forced me into a more conservative and attritional style of play; knocking the ball back towards the centre of the court until my opponent inevitably made a mistake, which soon became dull. I wish the developers had been able to find some kind of compromise between the superhuman sharpshooting afforded by the aiming marker and the nebulous guesswork involved in going without it.
Of course, there’s considerably more nuance to be found when tackling human opponents, and it’s as a multiplayer game that Matchpoint is at its best since it puts you head to head with a player theoretically equipped with the same sideline-searing skills as you. It’s a shame, then, that options for multiplayer are so sparse. Online play is restricted to either casual or ranked one-off matches, with no option to create or enter tournaments. Worse still, all multiplayer matches – both online and off – are strictly singles-only, as though you went to sign up for a tennis club membership but accidentally landed on the registration page for eHarmony.
It seems almost unfathomable that a tennis game released in 2022 lacks what has long become such an enjoyable and expected feature of the genre in the form of doubles play, but it’s not the only Matchpoint design call that needs to be challenged. I’m also wondering why I’m forced to play a qualifying set at the start of every tournament in the career mode, even when I’m ranked number one in the world, or why there are 13 licensed male players included and only five women. And of course the most ironic call I want to challenge: why haven’t I been given the ability to challenge any of the umpire’s calls? Line-call challenges have been a part of professional tennis for over 15 years, so it’s weird that they’re not included here – particularly when Matchpoint’s line judges have a tendency to miss more calls than a dead man’s phone.
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Author: Tristan Ogilvie