Five of the Best – Tennis Games
Wimbledon has made its yearly appearance, so what better time to mention as many tennis clichés as possible, and maybe discuss a few tennis games. So grab some strawberries and cream while we serve up (I’m truly sorry for that one) some of the finest recreations of the sport for you to play when the rain stops proceedings and Tim Henman* starts losing.
*I might be a little out of touch with the tennis scene.
Jimmy Connor’s Pro Tennis Tour (SNES, 1993)
Realism was a word few used to describe games in the early 90’s, but Jimmy Connor’s Pro Tennis Tour managed to pull off a fairly accurate depiction of tennis, despite the limitations of graphics and control. Using a control method which could be simplified to allow the AI to move the player-character, JC focused on its shots, rather than the more popular Super Tennis, which was mainly based on player movement. Once the button was pressed to hit the ball, both power and direction could be applied in order to hit the perfect shot. Each face button offered a different type of shot and mastering the controls was critical to success. A rewarding system, then, which made the effort of working through the year-long season mode and attempting to become world number one all the more gratifying. It looks dated now, but still plays extremely well, once you get the hang of the controls. It’s a pity the only real player in the game is Connors himself, and the fake opponents lack personality, but they do play to their skill sets and that’s probably more important.
Wii Sports Tennis (Wii, 2006)
Wii Sports Tennis, despite being a small part of a game bundled with a console, is actually rather fun. It’s not much like actual tennis, but you might say it’s as close as you can get (not including EA’s disappointing Grand Slam Tennis) thanks to the motion controls. You do genuinely swing your racquet/wiimote for backhands, forehands and serves, and while a gentle flick of the wrist has much the same effect, buying into the game – especially in multiplayer, is immensely enjoyable. A room housing a Wii and some friends soon becomes quite raucous as shots fly, wiimotes hit other players, accusations of cheating abound and eventually, someone manages to out-air-swing their opponent. It’s clearly a long way from a tennis sim with motion controls, but as a fun alternative, particularly for those who don’t know their elbows from their Edbergs, it’s somewhat difficult to top.
Everybody’s Tennis (PSP, 2010)
Coming spectacularly late in the life of the PS2, many gamers missed out on Everybody’s Tennis, a spinoff of the superlative Everybody’s Golf series. It’s now improved and available for the PSP, and is well worth playing if you enjoyed the golf games. Taking the same graphical style of colourful environments and anime characters with oversized heads as its more sedate cousin, ET (not the alien) even retains the comedy sound effects. The progression system is different however, based on earning experience and working through a story mode, rather than just unlocking better characters (though this is still part of the game). It’s far more interesting, and the unusual approach to a sports game works, just about anyway. It may not be for everyone, but moving from school kid to tennis champ is fun in its own way, and unlocking new shots and skills along the path to glory is a great way to keep things fresh. The control system is close enough to Virtua Tennis so it’s familiar and obviously excellent. It lacks something intangible that Clap Hanz managed with their Golf games, a level of charm maybe, but that doesn’t make this a bad game, it’s a great PSP title and suits the portable system perfectly.
Mario Tennis (N64, 2000)
Typical of an N64 release, Mario Tennis is an absolute blast with four players. Choosing from a range of familiar faces such as Mario, Bowser and Wario is a staple of these games and Tennis is no different. It does include Boo though, who doesn’t get enough opportunities to star in games. Each character has different abilities, Mario is all-around as always, Bowser is powerful, you know the drill at this stage. The controls are simple, though explaining them makes them seem far more complex. A and B are the only buttons used for shots and different combinations produce different shots. Double tapping increases power, A then B for a lob. It’s a lot more intuitive than it sounds, I assure you. Surprisingly, for a game of this type, it plays a pretty accurate game of tennis. The court types are realistic in terms of response, the ball physics are brilliant and the range of shots is frankly astonishing, considering Donkey Kong is delivering them. It’s not too complex of course, but quite deep. It wouldn’t be a Mario game though, without power-ups. All the Mario Kart classics are here should you want to deviate from a more traditional game and as usual it’s quite a kick to send your opponent to the ground with a carefully placed shell. It’s perfect for multiplayer and the game’s mechanics are more than good enough to maintain a solid single-player mode. Mario has a real talent for sports and tennis might just be his best.
Virtua Tennis (Dreamcast, 2000)
Saving the best till last, then. Virtua Tennis is the crème de la crème of tennis games, a fluid, realistic title with arcade sensibilities, perfect for enthusiast and amateur alike. Starting life in arcades, it was the original home port of Virtua Tennis that really made waves, thanks to world circuit mode. This mode is basically a career or season, in which you improve your characters skills and attempt to rise through the world rankings. Training is possibly one of the most fun parts of VT, thanks to the brilliant mini-games which are now a series staple. Serving at bowling pins, trying to hit a bullseye, knocking down cans and many more absurd games are some of the most fun you could imagine having with a tennis game, using the subtle and phenomenal control system in order to make precision shots, which become more and more accurate as your character progresses. The actual tennis is just as good, thanks to that excellent control system. It’s simple enough to learn, but mastering placement of shots and movement takes a lot of practice, and knowing a little about the game helps in terms of where to play from when hitting volleys, or how to control a game. At the time the graphics were amazing, and they still stand up. In fact, there isn’t an enormous difference between VT on the Dreamcast and the PS3 and 360 versions of the game. As a sim it lacks technical accuracy thanks to the necessity of an arcade friendly approach, so it may not quite please those who want a perfectly accurate recreation of the sport (though it does have real-life players), but for the average gamer who’s had a game or two on an actual court it feel s like the real deal, without being overly complex.