Outlaw Tennis is Hypnotix's latest attempt to subvert a haughty country-club pastime, and it proves to be roughly as successful as the other Outlaw sports games before it. Which is to say, Outlaw Tennis is a fun and accessible tennis game with some playful gameplay touches, but it's hampered by a dully sophomoric sense of humor. For what it's worth, though, the low, low price tag of $19.99 does make the barrage of limp slapstick and corny double entendres easier to tolerate.
Get ready to cause a racket! Get it? Racquet? Racket? Ugh.
When you're out on the court, the basic handling in Outlaw Tennis takes most of its cues from the de facto yardstick for tennis games: Virtua Tennis. The computer-controlled opponents in Outlaw Tennis aren't quite as cunning, and, generally speaking, the game doesn't have the same level of technical depth as Virtua Tennis. Still, the character controls are appropriately responsive, and variables such as the court surface affect the overall handling. As you might notice from the tattooed freaks and menagerie of strippers on the front of the box, Outlaw Tennis is more interested in going for the extreme and the outlandish, and this bleeds over a bit into the gameplay.
Most important is your player's turbo meter, which is limited in quantity but can be tapped at any time. When activated, the turbo meter will let you move across the court more quickly. And with the right timing, it can be used to deliver extremely fast and powerful serves or strokes. Your turbo meter regenerates slowly over time, though you get turbo bonuses for every volley you win. Unsurprisingly, the turbo system has a noticeable effect on the pacing of the game, and it also makes it easy for you to pull off crosscourt saves, making for longer volleys and (for better or worse) making the computer-controlled opponents less menacing.
Spicing up sports with senseless violence has simultaneously been one of the hallmarks of the Outlaw series, as well as one of its most regrettable indulgences. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with athletes beating one another within inches of their lives, but the fighting in the Outlaw series has always been exceptionally simplistic and clunky. Outlaw Tennis simplifies things even further, requiring you to do nothing more than mash on your controller's four face buttons faster than your opponent. Winning a fight nets you unlimited turbo for 30 seconds, which is handy. The fight sequences, while usually lasting less than a minute, are unsatisfying and come off as a chore you have to endure for the turbo bonus.
Though you can expect to play some straight-up tennis games in the exhibition, tour, and multiplayer modes (both online and off), Outlaw Tennis is rife with bizarre variations, some of which feel more like drinking games than honest-to-goodness sports. There's the pretty mundane Ping-Pong game, which just adopts the table tennis scoring system. Hot potato plays like standard tennis, except for the introduction of a meter that gradually fills up and will cause the ball to explode once full. If the ball happens to be on your side of the court when it pops, then you're detonated in kind. The baseball and football games apply concepts from those particular sports to the scoring system, and pinball actually puts giant pinball bumpers on the court. They might make tennis purists cringe, but frankly, tennis purists seriously shouldn't be playing Outlaw Tennis anyway. Furthermore, these special rule sets do a good job of mixing things up, and they make the whole experience more engaging.
There are roughly 16 different characters in Outlaw Tennis, and each and every one of them plays off some kind of crass stereotype or shallow caricature. Returning from previous Outlaw games are characters like Ice Trey, the white, affluent wannabe hip-hopper; El Suave, the sock-stuffing self-absorbed Latin lover; Donna, the loudmouthed, mildly hirsute Jersey bridge-and-tunnel trash; and, everyone's favorite, Summer, the blonde, leggy, and inherently promiscuous stripper-slash-PhD. The new characters are only somewhat more inspired, such as the tennis playing ninja, Bruce Lieberman, and the archetypal 1970s Nordic tennis pro, Sven Svenvenvenson. Just by the sheer volume of belabored sexual allusions and half-assed play on words, the humor occasionally strikes a chord. But for the most part, it just tries too hard and becomes tiresome. Some people will find Outlaw Tennis to be genuinely funny. But then again, some people really like Carrot Top. The point is that the gameplay is good enough that Outlaw Tennis could rely on it alone. If it offered just this and shed the in-your-face attitude, it would likely become much more broadly appealing.