It’s Wimbledon finals weekend, which seems like as good a time as any to run down the 10 best tennis video games of all time.
10. Tennis For Two
This is the game that started it all, in more ways than one. Tennis For Two was a simple tennis game – played on an oscilloscope display of all things – that literally blazed a trail for both tennis games, and video games in general.
Players would knock a ball back and forth over a raised net, and the challenge was in getting your trajectory correct – in some respects making it already more advanced than Pong, which followed years later – and we all owe Tennis For Two a lot of gratitude for getting the ball rolling.
9. Top Spin (Series)
The Top Spin series are very serious tennis games. They seem to take inspiration from golf games, covering the screen with gauges and meters to judge just how fast you were serving, how hard you were hitting, how good your timing was, and other stuff that’s a bit cumbersome when you’re just trying to get on and play.
They’re very accomplished games of tennis, don’t get me wrong, but they’re just a bit fiddly and finicky to really enjoy. I can imagine throwing the Wii Sports disc into the console for a quick ten minute blast of tennis with friends, but I wouldn’t fancy trying to get them into Top Spin without days to practise and get the hang of its mechanics.
8. Everybody’s Tennis (Hot Shots Tennis)
Everybody’s Tennis – or Hot Shots Tennis, in the US – is stablemates with Everybody’s Golf, one of the finest golf video games ever made. Its motto of fun over simulation, inclusiveness over specialism, and generally being an absolute riot to play carried over well into tennis, but the series never reached the same heights as its golfing counterpart.
And just because it’s got goofy characters and comic book onomatopoeia all over the screen doesn’t mean it’s not a deep, challenging game. It just works on many levels, allowing experienced players to really hone their skills, but giving novices something they can pick up and play, and most importantly, really enjoy.
7. Virtua Tennis (Series)
Remember when Sega’s Virtua series of video games were the absolute pinnacle of graphics and performance? Virtua Racing/Fighter/Cop/Striker and Virtua Tennis all brought the magic of Sega’s super-powered arcade cabinets into the home, complete with outstanding graphics, buttery-smooth gameplay, and grandstand presentation (with action replays, players walking out pre-match, and other things we’ve grown used to in sports titles).
The series was still going, at least until relatively recently – Virtua Tennis 4 featured the likenesses of Serena Williams, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal back in 2011 – but none of the later titles really lived up to the impact of the original Virtua Tennis arcade cabinet, and its belting Dreamcast port.
6. Tennis (1981, Atari 2600)
Tennis for the Atari 2600 was probably the first sporting simulation – with a more accurate representation of its sport than more abstract titles, like Pong or Horace Goes Skiing – for a home computer game system that didn’t actually suck.
It may not look like much now, but Tennis set out the template for the over-the-shoulder camera angle, so widely used in tennis coverage on the TV, to make its way into video games. Every other tennis game to follow picked up the baton from what Tennis did on the Atari 2600, and pushed the boundaries of the game forward into what we know and love today.
5.Tennis (1984, NES)
The version of Tennis released in 1984, for the NES, took everything that was great about the Atari 2600 game – though they were not related; the NES version was developed in-house by Nintendo R&D1 – and gave it the full works in terms of a Nintendo console release.
That meant better graphics than we’d ever seen in a tennis video game – including the first time we’ve seen a proper arena around the court – and some really clever gameplay touches that are straight out of Nintendo’s playbook. Case in point: how the ball sprite gets larger depending on how high/close to the camera it gets, to help you better judge height and trajectory of shots.
Oh, and Mario is the chair umpire. Obviously.
4. Mario Tennis (Game Boy Colour)
There was a Mario Tennis game that came out on the N64 that was really rather good, but it wasn’t the best Mario Tennis. No, the best Mario Tennis game was the Game Boy Colour version, which combined the sorts of RPG-lite elements that we’re only just seeing emerge in career modes of major sports franchises. And that was way back in 2000. On a handheld. With an 8-bit processor and a 160 x 144 pixel screen.
It’s worth mentioning that there was also a Mario Golf game that came out on the N64 that was really rather good, but it wasn’t the best Mario Golf game. No, the best Mario Golf game was – you guessed it – the Game Boy Colour version, which was also an RPG, just like Mario Tennis.
Long story short: Nintendo, stop making arcade sports games or Olympic tie-ins, and start putting RPG elements back into your sports video games, thanks.
3. Anna Kournikova’s Smash Court Tennis
Seems odd, right? Anna Kournikova is a former female tennis player, known more for her looks than her prowess on the court, and Smash Court Tennis is an arcade-style, cartoony tennis game, which didn’t look like much but played brilliantly – how did these two ever get together?
Well, in the world of franchising, someone at Namco probably decided that putting a very pretty lady on the box would help sales, but Anna Kournikova’s Smash Court Tennis is actually a great little game. Sure, it’s cutesy and silly, but it felt just right, and was an absolute riot with friends. At least it was, until they replaced the cartoon visuals with ‘realistic’ ones later in the series, and sucked all the fun out of it.
You could argue that Pong isn’t exactly a tennis video game. With its lack of net height and the off-the-end-of-the-screen scoring system it’s probably got more in common with air hockey than tennis, or even table tennis, from where the name derives.
It may not be the prettiest game, and it may only have one game mode, but its brilliance is in its perfect simplicity, at a time when mechanical functionality was the only string to a game developer’s bow. From arcades to bars – weren’t those table-top versions ace? – and into our homes, Pong was great wherever you could lay your hands on it, and is still fun to play even today.
1. Wii Sports Tennis
Wii Sports Tennis is basically like Pong with motion controls. It’s not the most sophisticated tennis game ever – hell, it’s actually one of the least – but the freedom offered by waggling that Wiimote around to hit the ball? That was, and remains to this day, absolutely magical.
In a strange way, Wii Sports Tennis might be one of the best video games that Nintendo ever produced, and they gave it away for free with a console as little more than a tech demo, an easy way for people to get used to the new motion controls.
Combined with its golf, bowling and boxing brethren, though, it’s probably got more playtime than any other game on the Wii console, and it deserves it – Wii Sports Tennis is endlessly brilliant.