Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Tennis Games on Atari consoles - Wimbledon Special: Part Two

In the second part of our Wimbledon special, we look at more digital versions of tennis. Today we go through the games that appeared on Atari's consoles, from the Atari VCS all the way up to the Atari Lynx. We tee off by revisiting the Atari VCS.

Tennis Games on the Atari VCS/2600

Atari's wooden box played host to hundreds of games, most of which bore little resemblance to, um, anything. Still, it attempted to replicate tennis and the sport featured in three games. It probably featured in more, but I don't know what they are. Here are the three games that I do know.

Video Olympics - Atari (1977)
Video Olympics was one of the launch games for the Atari VCS. It was basically Pong on a cartridge, with 50 variations on the theme which apparently mimicked such sports as football, basketball, ice hockey and, of course, in its simplest original two-bats-and-one-square-ball mode, tennis. Tennis without a net but with bouncy walls. At the time, there were countless consoles that played clones of Pong, with switches and dials and stuff to change the parameters of the game. Video Olympics was probably a way of Atari ensuring that its new VCS console was at least able to offer whatever was already on the market in one tidy package, providing pretty much every variation of Pong conceivable. The problem was, even in 1977, Pong and its many mutations were already old and dated. This game will provide some nostalgia value for, oooh, two minutes. Then you'll wonder how the video game industry ever got off the ground. Still, it's not too bad with two players.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Deep sounding beep. Who needs sound effects when you can have subtitles?

Tennis - Activision (1981)
This is the first game on the Atari VCS to look like a real tennis game, getting released two years before the next one. It's fun at first but gets tedious very quickly. You can't swing your racket, meaning that it's a simple case of getting your player to be in the same place as the ball in order to return it. Unless you are able to catch the ball at the end of your racket, it ends up going straight back to your opponent which results in endless games. A good first attempt to bring tennis to the masses, but it hasn't stood the rest time. You can play it for yourself in your browser through The Internet Archive's online console service

Pink is beating blue. Gosh.

Realsports Tennis - Atari (1983)
Atari attempted to recreate tennis using a viewpoint which is still favoured today. They also even attempted to give you the ability to influence the kind of shot that you were trying to pull off, not that it really worked that well. This is actually a fairly fun game but like a lot of VCS games today, it gets boring pretty quickly. The graphics are quite good, although the music sounds a bit like somebody has been pressing random keys on their Casio keyboard. It is quite surprising that it took Atari until 1983 to release a tennis game for their console, five years into its life. Realsports Tennis is easily the best tennis game for the Atari VCS, but that's not saying much seeing as there are only three, and one of those is Pong.

Those rackets look like the player's arms have come out of their sockets

Tennis Games on the Atari 5200
So, fans of tennis weren't too well served on the Atari VCS. What about the console's successor, the Atari 5200 Super System? Well, things got worse. There was just the one tennis game released for it. And that was.....

Realsports Tennis - Atari (1983)

This game is called Atari. No, Tennis. Realsports Tennis
In addidtion to its release on the Atari VCS/2600, Realsports Tennis also appeared on the Atari 5200, a game designed to make use of the console's "fantastic" controller. You controlled your little man using the joystick, but aimed your shots using its number pad. Needless to say, the game is pretty much unplayable. You could ignore the keypad and just use the joystick. This just results in you having a playful knockabout with your opponent with never ending relays. Not quite as exciting but far less frustrating, although it's unlikely you'll ever win a point.

This looks like an exciting game

Tennis Games on the Atari Lynx

Oh well, seeing as nobody actually owned an Atari 5200, the fact that Realsports Tennis was so bad wasn't that significant. The Atari 7800 did even worse. It didn't even have a tennis game. Nor did the Jaguar. The Lynx did though. In 1993, Jimmy Connors popped up on Atari's rather splendid little battery guzzler.

Jimmy Connors Tennis - UBI Soft (1993)

Hey Jimmy. I still don't know who you are
Jimmy Connors's Tennis on the Lynx wasn't a bad little game. It lacked a lot of the realism of the SNES equivalent, opting for simplicity and accessibility instead. There are some frustrating elements to the game. Missing your serve results in a fault and you never get to serve from the far end. Not great, but not major criticisms. The graphics are good and the game also features some nice sampled speech. Of all of Atari's consoles, this is easily the best tennis game for them. That's not saying much though.

Not too sure what that yellow square is but it looks out of place on a tennis court.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Tennis Games on the Super Nintendo - Wimbledon Special: Part One

It's that time of year when the world's greatest tennis players gather at the All England Club in London to take part in the most famous bat and ball tournament of them all - The Wimbledon Championships. I quite like tennis, but unfortunately I'm not very good at it. It's highly unlikely that I'll ever find myself on Centre Court at SW19 in my PE kit with my racket and balls. But, I don't want to feel left out, so my plan is to partake in a few games of tennis from the comfort of my settee. Oh yes, I'm going to play a few tennis video games. All on one machine to compare and contrast. And the machine on which its tennis games are going to be rigorously compared and contrasted is the good old Super Nintendo. And first to the bat is Andre Agassi.

Call me Andre
Andre Agassi Tennis - Tekmagik (1992)
Agassi was one of tennis' biggest stars in the 1990s so it was inevitable that he would pop in a video game based on the sport. Andre Agassi Tennis was released on the SNES in 1992 and is quite a simple version of the game. It all looks a bit plain and feels a bit rough around the edges. Gameplay comes to a sudden stop after each point is won and the controls could have done with a bit of refining. It's a functional version of tennis, but a bit dull.

New balls please

Nice motion blur effects there. Just lovely
David Crane's Amazing Tennis - Absolute (1992)
How do you convince the public that your game is worth playing? Why, call it amazing of course. That'll trick them. Just like Sega and their "Great" sports game series for the Master System, most of which were turds. Despite what the titles says, David Crane's Amazing Tennis isn't amazing.. It looks and sounds fantastic, and initially it seems to control ok. But, it has one major problem. The court is viewed from a low perspective. Although this does immerse you more in the game, it makes it difficult to judge the depth of the court and to know where the ball actually is, especially when you're on the far end. You also don't have full visibility of the width of the court, which makes it hard to make use of all of it. Sometimes, your player isn't even on the screen as the camera follows the ball, not the player. It's nice to see developers attempting something different, but there's a reason why most tennis games use a more traditional angle.


Starring a little person on his lonesome
International Tennis Tour - Taito (1993)
Another game which uses a low perspective, although not quite as low as David Crane above. The court is also viewed from a distance, which gives better visibility of the gameplay, even if it makes the court look tiny. This is actually quite a fun game, and is much more forgiving than other tennis games, perhaps a little too forgiving. You somehow manage to pull off shots even though it clearly looks like you've missed the ball. The ball also seems to float over the net which makes things a bit easier. Worth having a look at if you're after an arcade-style tennis game.

A close game between Carter and Iston

Is it bad that I've never heard of Jimmy Connors?
Jimmy Connors Pro Tennis Tour - Ubi Soft (1992)
If it's realism you're after, Jimmy Connors Tennis is the game for you. You can perform all kinds of shots with the many buttons available on the SNES controller, although I'm not too convinced that you're fully controlling what's going on. It isn't the most attractive of games to look at, but it plays a good game of tennis and has a surprising amount of depth. To get the most out of this game though, you do need to invest time and effort into it. It's not immediately accessible and getting to grips with the controls isn't easy.

Whoosh! 113 MPH!! You can really sense the speed in this screenshot

Super. Just Super
Super Tennis - Nintendo (1991)
The earliest tennis game on the Super Nintendo, and easily the best. Super Tennis shows off some of the then-new console's 3D abilities, but these don't interfere with the game. The controls are responsive and the multitude of shots that you can pull off with the variety of the buttons feels natural. The game doesn't bog you down with statistics and options and suchlike. Instead, it just plays a great fun game of tennis. Super Tennis probably remained untouched as the best console tennis game until Virtua Tennis hit the Dreamcast ten years later.

Quick! Run away from that ball!