Tennis and gaming have been intertwined since the very inception of videogames. After all, Tennis for Two – a game developed in 1958 by American physicist William Higinbotham to entertain the visitors of the Brookhaven National Laboratory– has the honor of being considered the first computer game ever to be created solely for entertainment.
Running on a Donner Model 30 analog computer and viewed through an oscilloscope, Tennis for Two boasted hundreds of people lining up to play on its debut, and proved so popular with visitors that it was upgraded the next year to include a larger screen and different levels of gravity.
Tennis for Two – The first videogame ever created for entertainment Source: https://dontfeedthegamers.com
14 years later Pong would arrive to the world, the first ever sports Arcade game. Based on table tennis, Pong quickly grew into a phenomenon managing to become the first commercially successful arcade video game machine and even launching its own home console.
But while Tennis games were instrumental in the early days of gaming, they have certainly found themselves eclipsed in popularity by other sports games ever since. But just because the Maddens and FIFAs of the world get all the credit doesn’t mean that there haven’t been amazing tennis games throughout gaming history, even including some tennis slots for those gamers that like to play with some money at stake. Let’s take a look at some of the best games to ever grace the virtual court:
SUPER TENNIS (1991, SNES)
One of the first games ever to be released on the SNES, Super Tennis was by far the best tennis game of its era. Featuring 20 characters to choose from (10 male and 10 female – each with a different skillset), as well as 3 different types of courts (hard, grass, and clay), Super Tennis gave players more options than any other game to come before it. The gameplay, meanwhile, was fast and fluid, featuring different types of shots (including a last ditch dive), and proved itself surprisingly hard at higher levels of difficulty.
The biggest innovation that Super Tennis brought to the table however, was the inclusion of a ‘Circuit’ mode, in which players compete in a full season consisting of four Grand Slams and four smaller tournaments, in the quest of finishing with the most ranking points and thus as number one in the world. Definitely a long way since the days of Pong.
VIRTUA TENNIS (1999/2000, ARCADE AND SEGA DREAMCAST)
Kicking off one of the most successful Tennis franchises of all time, Sega’s Virtua Tennis completely revolutionized tennis videogames by shying away from realistic gameplay and instead focusing on providing gamers with a fun, arcade-y experience that could challenge them to the core. Allowing players to compete as tennis pros of the caliber of four-time Grand Slam winner Jim Courier, Tommy Hass, Tim Henman and Carlos Moya, Virtua Tennis’ main virtue was its lightning fast pacing, and elaborate, yet intuitive controls.
The most memorable feature, however, was the fantastically surreal training circuit, consisting of various mini-games that included knocking down large bowling pins, giant balls, and even lobbing the ball into oil drums. These challenges didn’t just serve to help you better your skills, but were terribly addictive on their own.
MARIO TENNIS (2000, NINTENDO 64)
Across the aisle, Nintendo were not just sitting cross armed and content to let Sega ran away with the tennis game market, but were also working on a game-changer of their own. Set in the world of Nintendo’s flagship franchise Mario Bros, Mario Tennis features the always entertaining Mario and friends competing against each other to come out victorious in the Mario Star Tournament.
With a control system based on different combinations of 2 buttons the mechanics of the game allowed players to deploy a total of 7 different types of shots, and were particularly easy to learn in a very short time. As is customary with Mario sports titles, Nintendo also chose to dwell on the more over-the-top aspects of tennis, creating a light-hearted, cartoony experience that made the game an absolute romp, particularly when playing against friends.
WII SPORTS (2006, NINTENDO WII)
The biggest innovator in this entire list, the Wii Sports Tennis game did not substantially change that way in which tennis was represented onscreen for the better, but it did revolutionize the way in which the game is played. By using Wii controllers’ motion sensing technology, Wii Sports allowed players to swing the controller as if it was an actual racket, and have their avatar reproduce the action to hit the ball.
While critics will argue that this detracted from the complexity of the gameplay, as the characters moved automatically, not only did this new dynamic manage to get players off the couch, but it also invited a whole new generation of casual gamers to test their skills. The only caveat: Hold on tight to that controller, of risk shattering your TV screen with it when attempting that smash ball.
TOP SPIN 4 (2011, PS3/WII/XBOX 360)
No tennis game list would be complete without including the current dominating tennis series Top Spin. While Sega’s Virtua Tennis franchise lost steam somewhere around its third entry, by the time the Virtua Tennis 4 was released it was easily overpowered by the growing Top Spin series.
Structured like a TV broadcast, as well as boasting licensed venues and the best selection of professional tennis players thus far (including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovi?, and Serena Williams, as well as tennis legends Pete Sampras, Boris Becker and Andre Agassi), Top Spin 4 succeeds at capturing the essence of the sport with the most elaborate, realistic tennis experience yet.