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.
Can’t we just agree that we’re both at fault and move on with our lives?
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.