Nickelodeon Extreme Tennis is an extreme waste of potential

Nickelodeon Extreme Tennis

Tennis…to the “extreme”

You would think by now Nickelodeon and its parent company ViacomCBS would have come around to the idea that games featuring their most popular IPs should be better than mediocre, right? I mean, we got one last year with Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, the cross-over fighting game that gave it its best shot despite clearly lacking the funds required to make it a contender. The low-budget quality of most Nickelodeon games makes them feel like relics of a bygone era when every two-bit publisher on the market was scooping up as many family-friendly IPs as possible just so they could make a quick buck squirting out a couple of games with a sub-50 Metacritic score. Despite the potential seen in All-Star Brawl, the Nickelodeon and Nicktoons branding is still ending up in the hands of developers that aren’t going that extra mile to make something special, and nowhere is that more evident than with the recent release of Nickelodeon Extreme Tennis.

Nicktoons characters are no stranger to showing up in genres popularized by Mario and company. They’ve been in kart racers, party games, platform brawlers, and with the recent release on Apple Arcade, an arcade tennis game. Developed by Old Skull Games, creators of last year’s surprisingly good Masterchef: Let’s Cook!, the game brings together a handful of Nicktoons for what are billed as the “most Extreme Tennis Matches EVER!” As you can probably guess just by the fact this is a Nickelodeon game, these matches are far from anything that would be considered extreme.

As with all Apple Arcade games, Nickelodeon Extreme Tennis can be played on a variety of Apple products. I played primarily on my iPad, and if you play on either an iPad or iPhone, you’re stuck playing in Portrait Mode, which is just an awful way to play a wide variety of games on an iPad. On these devices, the game has a simple-to-understand, one-finger control scheme. You simply hold your finger to the digital joystick to move your character around the court, and when they’re in a spot where the ball can be returned, you aim the shot with the same joystick. On an iPhone, I imagine it’s easy to play with just your thumb. Not so much on iPad.

When playing on my Apple MacBook, the mobile control scheme is recreated using either a mouse or a touchpad. For whatever reason, the game does not seem to have an option for an actual controller, so I’m quite curious about how this plays on Apple TV. Without a physical controller, I never really feel like I’m in total control of my characters. It’s not a huge hurdle to overcome as the game isn’t too difficult and most of the people I’ve played online so far are garbage at it, but my hope for a game along the lines of Mario Tennis Aces was pretty quickly dashed when I first took control of SpongeBob SquarePants.

It falls even further from grace when you realize that, despite being on Apple Arcade, the game ties its progression to ideas from the free-to-play marketplace. There is a ton of loot to unlock and upgrade, including new costumes and rackets. That’s not entirely shocking given the way the industry works these days and player retention and whatnot, but Nickelodeon Extreme Tennis goes way beyond that by restricting characters, power-ups, and even shot types behind your profile level.

Want to lob a ball across the net? You need to reach level 6 before the game will let you do that. Want to unlock the Foggy Weather power-up? That won’t be available until you reach level 39. What if you want to play as Rocko from Rocko’s Modern Life? Then you better be ready to grind this shit out until you reach level 59.

Like, I get the idea of having unlockable characters, and I encourage more games to have those. But the entire roster outside of SpongeBob SquarePants is locked away until you raise your profile level high enough. Who thought that was a good idea? Imagine if other sports games did this, like the next Madden releases with only the New York Jets playable at first until you raise your level high enough that you can unlock the Houston Texans.

Making a Nicktoons tennis game with fan-favorite cartoon characters and Nickelodeon-themed power-ups like Tommy Pickles’s ball or the signature green slime should have been a no-brainer. But clearly, a few more brains were needed in the room where the big decisions about this game were made. It’s on Apple Arcade, people. You don’t need to keep tying these games to the exploitive ideas that run rampant in the free-to-play marketplace.

CJ Andriessen
Just what the internet needs: yet another white guy writing about video games.