Daily Archives: March 19, 2010

SEGA Superstars Tennis is a great videogame to play when you don’t want to play a videogame

Hmm…longest blog post title yet for Grinding Down?

Well, let me explain a bit.

Lately, I’ve been playing a good number of what I refer to as “heavy” games. These are the often emotionally draining experiences that take hours upon hours to complete, let alone get into. Examples include BioShock, Dragon Age: Origins, and Fallout 3. In fact, I actually stopped playing BioShock for about a month because I couldn’t handle the pressure of not knowing where every enemy was and when it would attack me and omg what made that sound. Eventually I got over this, but still, it was a game I had to really be in the mood for, except at the end when I just rushed through to kill that horribly done final boss. However, sometimes I just want to mindlessly play a videogame; y’know, tap buttons until it is time to go to bed.

So I have a few of these cuts that I keep on the side to play when I need a mental breather. I’ll talk about the others later on, but for now enter…SEGA Superstars Tennis. I bought this game used for $4.99, and it’s everything I thought it would be. You play as Sonic (or select from a range of other SEGA-owned characters) and you play tennis. You can also select to not play tennis and enter a world of odd yet highly varied mini-games that will unlock music tracks and bonus levels. This is where I’ve been spending most of my time.

The mini-games all use the tennis court layout, but their objectives are all different. On the House of the Dead court, you’ll play a Space Invaders-like game, hitting zombie targets as they draw closer to you; the Jet Set Radio court puts you to the task of “tagging” graffiti; Super Monkey Ball is all about hitting balls into hoops for points, and the Puyo Puyo court involves you saving tiny critters by getting them into rockets via moving arrows. Just to name a few.

The nature of these mini-games are why SEGA Superstars Tennis is a solid videogame to play when you don’t want to play a videogame. For most of them, you barely have to do much other than hit A and steer the ball in the right direction. Get a grade of an “A” or higher and you unlock the next mission, stage, music track, and so on. It is constantly rewarding you for playing, which is effective. And some (not all) of the music tracks are really great. I’d constantly find myself trying to keep a volley session going between myself and Ulala (from Space Channel 5) just to hear the whole tune.

But yeah, for around five bucks, it’s an excellent filler between those heavy gaming sessions, one that I welcome every time. Alas, I’m almost done with every mission. Gotta look for another cheapy title to fill the void eventually.

This is difficult to write about, or Dragon Age: Origins is hard

Recently, with Dragon Age: Origins, I found myself doing something I can’t recall ever doing with another videogame. I changed the difficulty…from Normal to Casual.

This decision stemmed from playing the same scenario over and over again to no success; it was not the first Ogre fight as depicted above, but rather a small fight while on the quest for the urn of Andraste’s ashes, where two mages and a group of soldiers slaughtered my team each and every time. I even tried switching up combat tactics, but to no avail. I found myself unable to move forward in the game, and I couldn’t pinpoint why. Did I lack the skills? Is Dragon Age: Origins grossly unbalanced? Is it a mix of both questions?

It was not something I wanted to do, trust me. I want to play games as they are intended to be played. In my mind, this is how it works: Casual is a setting for those that can’t cut it, Normal is how the developers expect you to experience their creation, and Hard is for masochists. Rarely do I go up or down, always comfortable in the middle. I even maintained the same difficulty setting through Mass Effect and BioShock, eventually learning to save often and get better.

But the combat tactics are hard to manage and mostly unreliable, with Alistair constantly charging straight to his death no matter what I try, and the difficulty spikes in Dragon Age: Origins are about as predictable as picking the next set of winning lottery numbers (4 8 15 16 23 42). I’d end up using every last healing potion on one fight, and then have to desperately crawl my way on a wing and a prayer through the remainder. It made for tough, frustrating times, and was all around just not a lot of fun.

And I wanted to have fun, see more Ferelden. Thanks to Casual, I have. But I wish it didn’t to have to come to such drastic measures.