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By Evan Norris 20th Jul 2020 | 6,478 views
For a free-to-play game, Tennis 1920s isn't half bad. A Switch port of World of Tennis: Roaring '20s, currently available on Steam, Xbox One, iOS, and Android, it's a straightforward tennis game with realistic physics, accessible controls, and a decent number of customization options and venues. At the same time, though, it suffers from repetitive gameplay and a tedious grind for resources — the latter a direct consequence of its free-to-play economy.
Tennis 1920s is a tennis title accurate to the era and the mechanics of the sport, so don't expect any arcade concessions or Mario Tennis-esque power shots here. It's actually quite refreshing in its simplicity. If you love tennis for its nuts and bolts, its tactical action, and its esoteric rules — and don't mind going without some bells and whistles — this is not a bad choice.
Here's how it works. At the beginning of the game you'll select one of seven available upper crust avatars, customize their getup, and head to a meticulously-manicured court for a training session with Bill. There you'll learn the game's control set-up, which is a little unusual. The right stick controls the direction of your shot. You'll aim a circle on the other side of the court during a volley; the ball will then land at random somewhere inside the circle, depending on your accuracy stats. The left stick, meanwhile, controls player recovery. This is movement immediately after you make your shot. Response movement — any movement made while the ball is on its way back — is automated.
It's an approachable system that's easy to learn. Tennis 1920s also introduces lob and manual shots, which use the ZR and R buttons respectively, but you can survive simply by moving into position with the left stick and aiming with the right stick. If you're not inclined toward twin-stick gaming, good news: the game supports touchscreen controls in handheld mode.
Once you get a grip on the controls, thanks to several handy tutorials and training sessions, it's off to the Competitions tab, the heart of the game. Here you'll take on AI-controlled avatars of real-life players — an interesting conceit from developer Helium9 Games — in a range of leagues and daily tournaments. Note: all matches are single-game tie-break scenarios, unless you purchase the Custom Match Duration card with real money in the eShop. Win enough and you'll climb online leaderboards and earn experience points you can then assign to several attributes: power, precision, speed, stamina, etc. You'll also accrue coins, earn achievements, and unlock new rackets and shoes available for sale.
While this makes for a serviceable gameplay loop, there are two main problems. The first is that the matches start to bleed together after a while. You'll be seeing the same seven avatar faces in the same tie-break single-game matches again and again. The second, more egregious issue is Tennis 1920s' free-to-play economy, which leads to either a tedious grind or in-game purchases. The game cynically introduces several gates, cooldown periods, advertisements, and incentives to push you toward the Shop tab, which links directly to the eShop.
There you can spend real money to purchase additional coins, needed for high-priced rackets and footwear; the Premium Membership card, which doubles all rewards for $8.99; the Custom Match Duration card, which allows you to play regular games and sets, not just tie-breaks for $3.99; and the coup de grace, Unlimited Gameplay, with which you can play any number of matches without waiting, watching ads, or spending premium coins for $11.99.
Apart from the nagging presence of microtransactions, Tennis 1920s is diminished by its lack of multiplayer. While Helium9 has done some inventive work bringing human players to life via avatars that play in the same style as the genuine article, it's not quite a substitute for true online multiplayer. Nor is it a replacement for local multiplayer.
Since Tennis 1920s originated on mobile platforms, don't anticipate anything close to cutting-edge graphics. Its character models, textures, and stage geometry look a couple of generations old, but its charming level backgrounds help distract from any graphical shortcomings. They include a posh country club in England, a lakeside property in New Zealand, the New York City skyline, and even the Gatsby yacht — although that will cost you extra.
Paying extra seems to be part of the package with Tennis 1920s. While the game offers accessible controls, some good-looking backgrounds, and sporadic fun, it throws up too many restrictions and paywalls to guarantee a consistently enjoyable experience. Missing multiplayer modes hurt too. Again, for a free-to-play game, it's not bad. Neither is it particularly good.