A Lifetime of Bad Tennis Computer/Video Games

Pong had a tennis quality to it.  Pong was simple yet fun.  Sadly, my experience with tennis based computer and video games generally topped out with Pong.  It has been a hard balance for programmers to come up with a tennis game with the right level of difficulty that also actually resembles the sport of tennis.

I will review a tennis related app I recently took up in my next article, but vintage gaming is its own happy topic so a walk down memory lane seems appropriate as we launch 2018 at Tennis Abides.

Tennis on Tandy’s TRS-80 (aka The Trash 80) Color Computer (CoCo) (1980??)

I can’t find the release year for this ROM, but the TRS-80 came out in 1977 – I would guess 1980.  I probably played this before I ever played actual tennis.  My father thought the TRS-80 would prepare his children for the computer age and here I am a minor presence on the blogosphere and in the Twitterverse (@danmartintennis) so no one can really argue with the results.  I loved the TRS 80 even if it was called the Trash 80 for a reason.  Despite all of its problems, the TRS-80 was fun for games and offered a decent platform for basic programming.  Our initial computer had 8K of memory and a cassette tape drive.  We eventually ramped it up to 16K and finally got a Tandy 128K successor that ran a really awful knockoff of the early MS Works.

This game was not great as you can see.  The TRS-80’s Dungeon’s of Daggorath was a great game.  Tom Mix programmed a number of good arcade ports as well.  This game was not much worse than one or two that followed.  I can’t really gripe about a game that was programmed for a machine that could accept 8000 characters of programming.  It is amazing the game was recognizable as tennis at all.  It played a bit like Pong, and the tennis ball even had a shadow when traveling from player to player.  Primitive, but it could have been much worse.

Recommendation – Unless you love old TRS games you aren’t missing much, but it is not terrible.

Racket Attack on the NES (1988)

(Released in the US and Japan in 1988) I was excited to get this game.  It had cool features and ideas.  Each player had different strengths and weaknesses.  Surfaces were supposed to play differently.  The players were based on the top-ranked female and male players in the late 1980s without actually using their names.  The problem is it didn’t play like that.  I have no doubt the programming tried to accomplish this, but once a player figured out how to hit a volley the game was over.   A human could simply net rush on every point and dominate the CPU (see the video above).  It didn’t matter if the human player picked clay and the worst volleyer in the game, a human player could net rush and easily end every point with a very high rate of success.

Recommendation – If you are a vintage NES player, play the original Nintendo tennis game (see below).  Racket Attack had no challenge and really silly tennis.  

Tennis for the NES (1984)

I played this a few times when babysitting.  I already owned Racket Attack.  I felt like I had made a bad purchase after playing NES Tennis.  Despite coming out 4 years earlier, NES Tennis had far better gameplay than Racket Attack.  It is completely unrealistic in terms of simulating tennis, but it at least had fun gameplay.   The video above shows points that would leave even Bjorn Borg gassed after a few minutes.

Recommendation – The best NES tennis game for whatever that is worth.  Fun from a craziness standpoint, but this lacks any real contact with actual tennis minus the net & racquets.  One plus is that I believe Mario is the umpire.  

DOS Advantage Tennis  (1991)

If my quest was to find a tennis game that resembled tennis (Racket Attack) with fun gameplay, Advantage Tennis for my old 486 40Mhz computer would seemingly be a good candidate.  The graphics were nothing special, but the stick figures seemed to be executing tennis shots.  The game had some connection to the ATP Tour as far as I could tell in the 1990s (the use of Becker and Edberg’s images would seemingly suggest this too).  The only problem was this game had a murderous level of difficulty given that it took keyboard commands rather than a gaming pad or joystick.  Maybe with some sort of controller this game would have been challenging yet fun while being a good approximation of actual tennis.  I do recall winning a few matches and getting a bit better.  Wins helped a player add weight to different shots.  I worked at it enough to add ranking points and better shots, but still, the keyboard controllers for a game that requires some reflexes were less than ideal.  I’d recommend beefing up one’s forehand first with any upgrades one wins.

Recommendation –  If you are looking for a decent vintage tennis game with a high level of challenge, maybe give Advantage Tennis a look.  Otherwise, the number of losses needed to pick up skills and wins are not a good use of one’s time. 

Nintendo Wii Tennis (2006)

Wii Tennis from the Wii Sports pack/bundle was the next tennis game I tried.  The 15-year gap between tennis games demonstrates how disappointing most tennis games had been to that point.  Wii Tennis is pretty fun and reasonably easy to pick up, but it has no resemblance to an actual tennis swing despite the Wii’s motion capture technology adding supposed realism to games.  For all that Wii Tennis seemingly has going for it, I like it less than virtually all of the other Wii Sports pack.  Some of that may be that I am awful at baseball and have never played golf so the unrealistic gameplay in those sports is not a drawback for me.

Recommendation –  More readers have probably played this once or twice than anything else I have reviewed.  The quick wrist snap of the Wii remote that this game rewards wouldn’t work in table tennis let alone tennis.  That irks me.  Therefore, I don’t recommend it beyond giving it a one-time whirl.

Head-to-Head Rankings

Difficulty:

1. Advantage Tennis 2. NES Tennis 3. Wii Tennis 4. TRS 80 Tennis 5. Racket Attack

Fun:

  1. NES Tennis 2. Advantage Tennis 3. Wii Tennis 4. TRS 80 Tennis 5. Racket Attack

Realistic Representation/Simulation of Tennis:

  1.  Advantage Tennis 2. Racket Attack 3. TRS 80 Tennis 4. Wii Tennis 5. NES Tennis

Overall Ranking

  1. Advantage Tennis – This game is brutally hard, but it is the best of this group.
  2. NES Tennis – It is fun despite the absurd physics of the game
  3. Racket Attack – There is a big dropoff between the top 2 and the final 3.  Racket Attack is way too easy, but one can play tournaments, can play on different surfaces, and can play as one of 16 different players (8 female and 8 male options).  Trying to sincerely capture tennis, even if it failed badly, helps place Racket Attack in 3rd place.
  4. Wii Tennis – It was terribly disappointing that the motion capture of the Wii couldn’t even get close to rewarding a tennis swing, but it can be fun.  Grading on a curve for the technology available would land this game even lower than second to last place.
  5. TRS-80 Tennis – Grading on a curve this would be 2nd or maybe 1st.  It was made for a machine that could handle 8000 characters of code.   That was bound to leave it far behind the other games on the list.  For what it was, it actually was not that bad.

I would not rate any of these games above 3 out of 5 stars.  They each either had at least one fatal flaw or a serious set of limitations.  I am sure better tennis games were out there, but these were the five tennis games I played before playing Hit Tennis 3 on the iPad.  That review is forthcoming.  All of these games left a true tennis fan and player wanting something better.  Will Hit Tennis 3 actually prove to be good?

 

 

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