i’ve been meaning to work my way through some of the earliest NES games, several of which are available in the gamecube version of animal crossing. (it’s been a while, but if anyone is interested the other two NES via animal crossing games i’ve played and reviewed previously are pinball and balloon fight.) in this particular case, the game was tennis, one of the US NES’s launch titles, but also one of the earliest releases for the original japanese famicom.
it took me quite a few attempts to get into the game enough to give it a fair chance, but my progression through the game was not unlike my experience with the original f-zero on SNES or the original punch-out!! (the mario as referee cameo apparently isn’t the only similarity between the two games). specifically, the game is perfectly amiable as it starts off, but soon gets brutally difficult. in the case of tennis the game starts off being somewhat hard to get into because at first it’s difficult to judge how far the ball is from the racket and where it’s going to land, but after a session i think most people would be able to master the basics. the controls are simple (the A button is for a regular shot and the B button is for a lob), and the difficulty is fairly smooth up to the third level (of five). levels 4 and 5, however, are pretty brutal.
the problem isn’t just that the AI is too good (which it is), but that at the higher levels you’ll have to do more than just return the ball to win. winning then requires a huge amount of trial and error and subsequently memorization in order to not only figure out how to make the computer opponent mess up, but how to master the intricacies of the gameplay. angling your returns becomes essential, but it’s easy to go out of bounds, an aspect of the real game that most other tennis video games don’t include. you’ll end up learning how to hit the ball extremely close to the boundaries of the court in order to win points. playing the net and hitting a volley (before the ball bounces) become more important as well, and the former becomes a real test of patience as hitting close to the net all too often results in hitting the ball into the net or out of bounds. the computer opponent, of course, is a master at playing the net, and will taunt you with his effortless, superhuman skill.
the majority of reviewers have taken the easy way out and just written off the game as being completely outdated, but at the lower levels the game is actually a lot of fun and i bet that if you put in the trial + error + memorize time to master the “advanced” moves the higher levels would be enjoyable as well. there is a definite sense of satisfaction when you do manage to execute a shot at the net and slam the ball past the computer opponent, imagining his dazed and befuddled look. the gamers of today wouldn’t have the patience, but as a predecessor to the similarly punishing punch-out!! there’s a lot to appreciate. the graphics, like the other early NES releases, are clean and attractive, and although there’s no music during the game, the pong-like sounds are effective. although it lacks a competitive mode the co-op mode is fun, but again, at higher difficulties i imagine it would be supremely frustrating, even if both players were masters of the single-player game.
this is actually only the second tennis video game i’ve spent much time with. the first was wii tennis which i quite enjoyed, and so i think i’m going to have to go back and try that game again to see how it compares. nintendo has regularly put out tennis video games for all of their platforms, so it shouldn’t be long before i get my mitts (or should i say, tennis gloves) on another one.
punch out these tennis links!
– good FAQ at gamefaqs.com
– video at thebitblock.com highlighting co-op play for this game along with vs play of two other early NES sports titles
– in the iwata asks interview about the 3DS eshop, the developers have some interesting comments about why they abandoned making a 3-D version of tennis
– typically dismissive review at nintendolife.com. that reviewer didn’t even put in the minimal amount of time required to master the basics, but the reader comments are much more worthwhile.
– entry at wikipedia