The series Nintendo is Great will explore every game ever released for a Nintendo console/handheld, beginning with the Famicom and working our way up to the Nintendo Switch.
RELEASE DATE: 01/14/1984 (JP), 10/18/1985 (US), 09/01/1986 (EU)
ALSO ON: Arcade (02/1984 [JP], 03/1984 [US]), Famicom Disk System (02/21/1986), Game Boy (05/29/1989 [JP], 08/1989 [US]), e-Reader (09/16/2002 [US]), Wii Virtual Console (12/2006 – WW), 3DS Virtual Console (06-07/2011 – WW), Wii U Virtual Console (10/2013 – WW), Nintendo Switch Online (09/18/18 – US)
FEATURED IN: Animal Crossing (Gamecube, 12/14/2001 – JP, 09/16/2002 – US)
Tennis is the kind of game you bring home to mother. It’s safe, unassuming, and incredibly non-threatening; so much so, that she will probably bake it a pie, embarrassing you and Tennis in the process. In fact, your entire family will probably love Tennis, as it holds no real opinions or ideas of its own. There will be no shouting matches with Tennis, no loud, uncomfortable political debates. Just the simple, quiet hitting of balls back and forth over a net, forever and ever and ever.
In Tennis’ case, “Nothing but net” is a bad thing.
Two crudely designed human sprites (sans mouths) emerge onto a tennis court. One player begins the match and hits the ball over the net. The other player – hopefully – hits the ball back over the net. This exchange of ball hits continues until one of the players fails to hit the ball, hits the ball out of bounds, or drops the ball in some form or fashion. A point is gained (in the form of 15), and the match continues. Whoever gains four points first wins the match.
Mario speaks in all caps.
Here’s the thing about Tennis… the matches are never really over. You cycle from one match to the next, all while Mario issues decrees and verdicts from atop his intimidating referee chair (I know this squatty humanoid is Mario, not only because I feel it in my bones, but because “Mario Mania” tells me so). Tennis never stops unless you shut it off. You can, if you so desire, play Tennis until you drop from exhaustion.
Up and at them!
Tennis emerged in January 1984. As such, it offers straightforward, bare bones, back-and-forth ball hitting. No options. No real players. No features. There is simultaneous two-player, which is a far more clumsy affair than one-player (good for laughs, if nothing else). There are also harder, faster opponents, depending on the difficulty you set before you play. Otherwise, Tennis revels in simplicity.
“Yeah I said it. Purple shirts are for chumps!”
As with Baseball, Tennis has its endearing subtleties. For example, when you score a point, sometimes your opponent will bum rush the net, like he’s going to beat you up. Other times you’ll score a point and he’ll remain curiously still, as if he can’t believe he let you have that one. The players’ move like cartoon characters across the court, their feet ablaze as they race to get the ball. The goofy sound effects are all great, especially the exaggerated squeaks of the players’ shoes, Mario’s chiming referee calls, and the tennis ball occasionally landing like a wounded fart against the back of the court.
“And the crowd does nothing!”
You either grew up on early NES games or you didn’t. To some, Tennis and its launch brethren are unplayable, antiquated relics from a time that most of us barely remember. I myself have zero affinity or nostalgia for Atari games, so some other older writer is going to have to fill that void on the Archive.
Can’t we just agree that we’re both at fault and move on with our lives?
That said, Tennis is surprisingly playable today and remains one of the NES’ best tennis games, if you can believe that (not sure about the Famicom’s tennis game lineup – I suppose I’ll find out). At its best, Tennis‘ repetitive gameplay helps you zone out and forget your problems. Even after several matches, you won’t feel like you’ve made any progress, but progress is besides the point. Tennis exudes enough of a calming presence to keep you going for another day. And its positive effect on our mental health, my friends, is why your mother loves it so much.
One month after Tennis’ home Famicom release, Vs. Tennis topspinned its way into Japanese arcades in February 1984 (and in North America shortly thereafter). The premise for Vs. Tennis is the same as all Vs. cabinets. Each player has their own cabinet, and their viewpoint is from their respective side. Unlike Tennis for the Famicom/NES, Vs. Tennis allows one-on-one and two-on-two competitive play, making this Nintendo’s first four-player experience of any kind (thanks, Tired Old Hack).
Vs. Tennis also lets players control a female tennis player, an option that was strangely absent in Tennis. Mario looks more dignified and less stumpy in his referee chair, and the players’ motions seem slightly more graceful and fluid; it’s also possible I’m imagining things. Otherwise, Vs. Tennis is as solid as its home counterpart.
Controlling a female player in Vs. Tennis: A-
Nintendo’s first four-player game: A+
TENNIS (FAMICOM DISK SYSTEM)
Tennis was released on February 21st, 1986, the same day as the Famicom Disk System itself. The idea behind the FDS was cheaper hardware (floppy disks instead of cartridges) and cheaper games. The Famicom was incredibly popular, but Nintendo was having trouble keeping up with demand, and games on carts were often considered too expensive by both retailers and consumers. Enter the Famicom Disk System.
IN we goooooo!
With the exception of the brand-new The Legend of Zelda, all other FDS launch titles were previously released Famicom games, like Tennis. As far as I know, Nintendo didn’t add any features to these older games. Baseball is the same experience on the Famicom/NES as it is on the FDS. Tennis is too.
I presume Tennis, Baseball, Golf, and other previously released Famicom games were re-released at a lower price point for the FDS. They would have to be, no discerning consumer would have bought them otherwise. But if they were released at a lower price point, does that mean their older cartridge counterparts were still more expensive than the brand-new FDS versions? Was the demand still that high for Tennis that Nintendo could get away with selling it for 4,000 or 5,000 yen two years after its original release? Nintendo’s games have historically had long legs, sure, but… Tennis?
Two sets of twins take to the tennis court.
Again, the 80s were a different time, and game companies like Nintendo were making all this up as they went along. There was no template for success in the gaming industry then, so they had to create their own. Bumps and potholes were inevitable.
Anyway, Tennis. If you played it on the NES, you’ve played it on the Famicom Disk System.
Theorizing about the price of Famicom carts in the 80s: B-
TENNIS (GAME BOY)
Tennis for the Game Boy improves the character models, so that’s something. The tennis players are cuter, chubbier, and chibi-er. Mario looks more like Mario circa 1989, less like a pixelated shrunken gnome. There’s also bouncy, sprightly music; no more stoic silence, like in the FC/NES version. The music is indeed more excited that you’re playing Tennis than you are.
Kunio-kun, is that you?
Game Boy Tennis also ramps up the difficulty and decreases your player’s speed. Regardless of the speed/difficulty setting, your player moves slowly, painfully; no speedy shuffling as in the FC/NES version. The computer’s skills are aces, even at lower difficulties. He’ll hit the ball on top of the net repeatedly, so it lands on your side of the court with barely any time to respond. And that’s just one of his sick moves. The dastard!
I don’t care for your lip or the mustache that sits upon it.
Despite the decent music and the improved character models, GB Tennis lacks personality. The computer doesn’t ever lose their temper and bum rush the net. The sound effects aren’t as over-the-top and ridiculous. It’s just… Tennis, except more boring, more difficult and on a blurrier green-and-gray screen. No thanks.
Yes, the e-Reader was a flop in North America and rightly so. Who wants to buy a peripheral and scan not just one, but five cards just to play an antiquated NES game? Except in late 2002, NES nostalgia was just starting to bloom. NES games were only kinda old at the time, not supremely ancient like they are today. Selling nostalgic NES games to hip, young millennials was a great idea, even if the e-Reader wasn’t the best way to make that happen.
And with that aside, Tennis-e for the e-Reader! It’s Tennis on the Game Boy Advance, but only if you scan five cards. As with Baseball (and all e-Reader games), Tennis’ five cards give you tips on how to play, the control scheme, etc. Two-player has been eliminated, because the notion of using two GBAs, two e-Readers, and ten Tennis-e cards just to play two-player Tennis was ridiculous, even to Nintendo (presumably).
Tennis on the GBA via e-Reader is the absolute worst way to play Tennis, both in 2002 and today.
Don’t use the e-Reader to play old NES games, please: D+
TENNIS (ANIMAL CROSSING)
I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: finding old NES games to play in the original Animal Crossing was so cool in 2002. I spent hours trying to find and collect them all. I found most of them, save for the Animal Island games (Wario’s Woods, Baseball), Nintendo giveaway-only games (Donkey Kong 3, Punch-Out!!, etc.) and games only available through hacking (Legend of Zelda). So I definitely had Tennis and I definitely played it more than a few times.
The original Animal Crossing was such a revelation for me, and the NES games were the 8-bit icing on an already delicious cake. We’ll get to Animal Crossing and its sequels in this series eventually, but to think that Nintendo essentially put these NES games in as free Easter eggs! The company would never be that generous with its back catalog again.
The delight of finding and playing NES games in Animal Crossing: A
TENNIS (VIRTUAL CONSOLE)
I’m not sure it will ever happen, but I would love to see Wii, Wii U, and 3DS Virtual Console sales numbers, particularly for titles like Tennis and Baseball. What if Tennis sold a million copies on the Wii Virtual Console? That’s completely possible, given that the Wii sold 101 million units. That would be five million dollars of free money for Nintendo, and that’s just the Wii. Off of a game that’s several decades old. Only Nintendo and Disney can pull off crap like that.
In 2006, 2011, and 2013, Tennis made its way to the Wii, 3DS, and Wii U Virtual Consoles respectively. Of course, the 3DS Virtual Console received the Game Boy iteration, and the Wii and Wii U received the Famicom/NES version.
Far be it from me to judge anyone’s game purchases, but if you have purchased Tennis on one of the three Virtual Consoles, I hope it was only once. Because… how much Tennis do you need, really? And the NES emulation on the Wii U is surprisingly bad, so I hope you purchased the Wii Virtual Console. And if you did purchase the 3DS version, I hope you weren’t too disappointed, but… man, GB Tennis is awful.
Purchasing Tennis on the Wii VC in 2006: B
Purchasing Tennis on 3DS or Wii U: C-
TENNIS (NINTENDO SWITCH ONLINE)
Tennis is now free to play on Nintendo Switch, provided you have the Online service. As much as I enjoy the mindless back-and-forth swings found in Tennis, “Free” is the appropriate price for the game at this point. If you’re an adult trying desperately to hold onto your youth, the game costs you nothing (unless $20/year for Nintendo’s online service really stretches your budget). If you’re a kid who loves Nintendo and wants to revisit some of their older catalog, you can dabble without having to invest in older hardware. Also, you can play Tennis online with a friend. I’ll never stop being amazed by that.
“Free” Tennis with friends: A-