We've been waiting for a great new tennis game on Xbox for the best part of a decade now, and while the likes of AO Tennis and Tennis World Tour have kept us busy in recent years, they haven't managed to live up the high standards of the Virtua Tennis and Top Spin series' from the Xbox 360 era. Matchpoint: Tennis Championships can't quite live up to them either, but to give it credit, it's still one of the better tennis games we've seen in recent years.
Launching as part of Xbox Game Pass, Matchpoint: Tennis Championships feels like a bit of a mix of all four of those aforementioned franchises, borrowing the fast-paced gameplay and animation style of a Virtua Tennis, the realistic focus of a Top Spin and an AO Tennis, and just occasionally some of the jankiness of a Tennis World Tour.
The key positive is that the on-court action is generally really good. Rallies flow with a natural rhythm thanks to the excellent player animations and animation transitions on display, and the AI is enjoyable to play against, showcasing a good degree of variety that allows them to pull off aces, struggle with double-faults, hit great returns, and of course, engage with you in long back-and-forth rallies that seem like they're never going to end.
The way you play shots in Matchpoint: Tennis Championships is similar to AO Tennis, as there's a little reticule in your opponent's half of the court that you move around with the left-stick. Not everyone is a fan of this system, but in Matchpoint it's really intuitive, and you'll soon find yourself pulling off incredible shots in clutch moments.
That's not the say the gameplay is without its faults though. Volleys, in particular, just don't feel quite right, as the AI makes robotic movements when moving forwards, and lobbing them is pretty much the only way to ensure they don't automatically snap into an animation when they're close to the net. Volleys feel pretty much pointless from a player's perspective as well, as the gameplay and animations are so fast that you barely ever have enough time to move into position to play one.
You do also sometimes get those instances where an AI opponent will hit a great shot, and for whatever reason your player just won't respond at all, but fortunately it's rare enough not to be a major problem. The bigger issue for us, at least at launch, is the fact that even the hardest difficulty level ("Professional") is far too easy to play on. It's perfectly feasible that any semi-experienced player of tennis games will be able to climb the rankings in Career Mode without ever training their player once, having to play any of the lower-difficulty tournaments, or even losing a set (in response to our questions about this, the game's publisher told us that it's "taking all feedback into consideration for future updates").
And that's a shame, because Career Mode is otherwise set up pretty well. You can upgrade your player, compete in exhibitions, take part in countless tournaments, and play around with the basic customisation of your tennis star, from their appearance to their accessories and even their coach. It's a genuinely fun, albeit no frills mode, but if you find Matchpoint: Tennis Championships too easy on Professional difficulty, you're going to blast through it without experiencing everything it has to offer.
The presentation of Matchpoint, meanwhile, is a bit of a mixed bag, but we're mainly happy with it. The player models aren't going to impress anyone, but the arenas look fine, and the broadcast camera is great. In terms of audio, the crowds are fairly subdued and the commentary is minimal, but in fairness to the latter, we think that's actually a good thing. Less is often more when it comes to commentary in sports games, and Matchpoint: Tennis Championships recognises that staying quiet until the key moments is the best way to go to avoid repetition.
Another thing we should praise about the presentation is that the menus follow that "no frills" design of the rest of the game, meaning you can load up Matchpoint: Tennis Championships from scratch and be playing a match in Career Mode within 20 or 30 seconds. There's a real snappiness to the menu system that we definitely appreciate.
Finally, Matchpoint: Tennis Championships also features online play in both a ranked and unranked format, but due to us getting hands-on with the game prior to release, we haven't been able to test this yet. As a result, this review is purely based on the offline, single-player portion of the game for now.
Matchpoint: Tennis Championships deserves your attention on Xbox Game Pass, as it's genuinely one of the better Xbox tennis games we've seen in years. It has its drawbacks, particularly in the presentation department, but it's also good fun when you get out on the court. Unfortunately, some of that enjoyment has been taken away for us because even on the highest difficulty, the game just feels far too easy at launch, rendering a lot of the strategic elements and Career Mode's features somewhat useless for now. It's still a pretty good game regardless, but definitely in need of a couple of balancing tweaks over the coming weeks and months.