Monday, November 18, 2013

NES Replay: Tennis

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1985
Tennis provides exactly what is advertised: Tennis, no more and no less.

This is another bare-bones sports game that Nintendo released at the NES launch, right alongside 10-Yard Fight, Baseball and Golf. Tennis is a lot duller than those, for one major reason. When you strip sports like American football, baseball or golf down to the bare essentials, there's still a lot of meat there. Bare-bones tennis, though, is just two people hitting a ball back and forth.

Now, people had indeed demonstrated that they liked playing really basic tennis games. After all, the first game that took the world by storm was Pong. By 1985, though, Pong was ancient history. A tennis game needed to have a lot more depth to it in order to be successful.

Tennis has a lot more going on than Pong, so the comparison might be a little disingenuous. It was actually one of the more accurate tennis simulations on the market. In Tennis, you're actually controlling people, not little white paddles. You also have full control over their movement all around the court, not just along one axis like in Pong. However, just like Golf, it was still too basic to be playable today.

For example, once you’ve beaten a computer player or beaten your friend, that’s it. You literally have seen all that Tennis has to offer. There's no career mode, no additional types of courts, nothing. Just a simple one-on-one player mode.

The biggest problems, though, come from serving. In modern tennis games, you press one button to throw the ball in the air and another button to swing the racket to deliver the serve. However, in Tennis, your player begins serving automatically without you prompting it to. If you're serving, you had best be paying attention, since your player will automatically throw the ball in the air after a few seconds. If you're not prepared for it, you'll either whiff on the serve or fault.

You also can't really aim your serve. The ball will come off your racket at the same general angle no matter where you stand along the service line, so if you want to paint the inside line with a serve or put a little extra angle on it, you can't. You're stuck just sort of hitting the ball in the direction that the game says you should.

The general tennis play, though, is incredible. Once the ball gets going, Tennis actually feels like tennis in a way that previous tennis games didn't. I wouldn't be surprised if Nintendo still uses the underlying tennis physics from this game in current tennis games, since it just feels that good.

Finally, there was one key innovation that Nintendo put in that's become the de facto standard in tennis games: The camera view. While most early tennis games were played from a side perspective, Tennis is played from a front-to-back perspective. There's a reason that TV broadcasts have used it for years: It just works. Tennis wasn't necessarily the first game to use this perspective, but it was definitely the first major console game that attempted it, and it really goes a long way toward making Tennis feel like tennis.

Still, Tennis is such a basic tennis game that it can't really be recommended. There are so many games that have done what Tennis did, but far better. Even at the time, it was a bare-bones product. I suppose if you were really hard-up for a tennis game during the NES launch, Tennis would have fit the bill. For anyone else, there wasn't really much of a point.

Final Rating: