Ah, the noble game of Tennis. A sport synonymous with strawberry’s in champagne, incomprehensible shouting, a nonsensical scoring systems and the phrase “You cannot be serious”. As a Brit, I’m legally obligated to enjoy Tennis at least once a year, during Wimbledon, but for the rest of the year, the UK is usually too wrapped up in Football (or “Soccer”/Sportsball if you’re in the US/Greg) to give a damn about it. It appears that Timberman though, the titular star of a viral mobile gaming hit from 2014, is quite partial to a spot of the ol’ tenten all year round as he’s now the star of ‘Timber Tennis: Versus’, a pixel art Tennis game from developer Digital Melody, that recently made the cross-court smash from mobiles onto PS4, Switch and PC.
While Timber Tennis: Versus is visually represented as a game of tennis, and even has the word “Tennis” is the title, it’s actually anything but. Instead, this title is like a grid based version of Pong with your character able to scroll left and right along a 5 block wide space with a button press. When you’re standing in the block which the ball is heading through, your character will smack the ball back to a randomly chosen block on your opponents 5 block wide service line. You’re not given the ability to choose where to hit the ball, that’s all done automatically, so the traditional tactics of tennis (the whole force them out wide then switch direction that worked in Wii Sports for example) don’t apply here. It’s all about gauging where the ball will go and making sure you’re in the way of it, just like Pong. If the ball crosses this line, because either you or your opponent weren’t in the correct space when the ball passed through it, the losing character explodes, transforms into a grave stone and a point is awarded to the other player.
Of course, Timber Tennis: Versus isn’t just Pong dressed up as Tennis and to differentiate it, there are a hand full of pick up’s which either buff you or hinder your opponent when used. There’s the super shot, which makes your next shot super quick but displays a target on the floor for where it’s heading, giving your opponent a split second to react. There’s an ice blast which covers 3 squares of your opponents grid and if they get caught in it, surrounds them in a block of ice which requires a left, right, left tap on the buttons to be freed from. There’s a power up that doubles your size, a paint grenade that obscures your vision of part of the court and an item which reverses your movement for a short time. These pickups appear on the court randomly during play for a short time and can only be picked up one at a time.
Without these power up’s, Timber Tennis: Versus might have been bland. In fact, when a fellow player and I ignored the power up’s and stayed to the straight Pong play, we underwent a monster 4 minute rally for a single point (the whole 15-30-40 match is abandoned here for simple points) which, when you consider that a ball crosses the net once every second or so, was quite some achievement (I lost the point, btw). It’s these power up’s that add the spice and a level of tactical depth that would be missing otherwise. The more you play, the more you see the best use of the offensive and defensive powers. Firing off the ice blast just as your opponent hits the ball might freeze them in place, giving you a second headstart, for example. The game is described by Digital Melody as “easy to learn, hard to master” and while that’s a term you seen thrown around a lot these days, it describes the surprising depth of Timber Tennis: Versus perfectly.
There’s a myriad of different courts to play on in in Timber Tennis: Versus, randomly chosen for you, some of which add a new level of difficulty to proceedings because of how they’re presented. There’s a space area, a futuristic court with laser nets, a country garden complete with swans and a load more. There’s one particular court that looks like it’s made of Duplo that really threw me for a loop because it’s very busy and the lines on the court don’t match the grid system. When playing against another human, you’re both disadvantaged by this layout but the AI ignores it and might just cream you.
Much like the mobile version of the game, Timber Tennis: Versus has an in game currency system. Where this version differs from the iOS/Android version is that during play, coins don’t spawn on the court. Instead, you’re awarded coins for beating other players and for winning the tournaments. These coins can then be spent on unlocking new members of the colourful cast of characters (like a Ninja, Gadgy who is basically Inspector Gadget and many other) or balls. Some of these rewards require a hefty chunk of change to unlock which means there’s going to be a lot of repetition involved if you want to open them all/get the Platinum trophy.
As for content, Timber Tennis: Versus provides a lot of bang for not a lot of buck. There’s 3 different tournaments, each longer and more difficult than the last, a single player Skirmish mode that’s just a single match against a tough AI opponent that’s can be anything between 1 and 8 sets long, local multiplayer and online multiplayer too.
The online multiplayer works perfectly here. There appears to be no slowdown or input lag which is fantastic for a game as fast and frantic as this. The game also offers Cross Platform play (although it’s not mentioned which platforms you’re cross playing with) and while this means you’ll likely find a match quicker, it also means that you might be severely disadvantaged. The moment I switched cross play on, I noticed my win ratio took a huge nose dive which I expect is because PC players became part of the mix and a keyboard arrow key set up is going to trump the speed of a controller D-Pad all day long. Some of the cross play players (represented by a specific logo when matched up pre-game) were so fast in their actions that they seemed to be entirely unaffected by some of the power ups. If you’re looking for a fair fight, maybe leave this option off.
Timber Tennis: Versus will become repetitive long before you’re unlocked every skin it has to offer and doesn’t do anything unique, proving to be little more than super powered Pong when you really get down to it. A lack of innovation however doesn’t detract from what is a fun little pixel art arcade game with surprising tactical depth and a cracking soundtrack. At the time of writing this, Timber Tennis: Versus costs just £1.69 on PS4 and for that price, you’re getting a slick single player time killer, a fun party game and a cross platform multiplayer game (that you should activate at your own peril). It’s superb value for money for fans of Timberman and those that are hearing about him for the first time alike.
Timer Tennis: Versus is available now on PS4 (review version), Nintendo Switch, PC and mobile platforms.
Developer: Digital Melody
Publisher: Crunching Koalas
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we purchased a copy of the game. Please see our review policy for more information.