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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: Tennis (3DS Virtual Console)

Tennis on the Game Boy was first released back in 1990. Because this is Digitally Downloaded’s first Game Boy Virtual Console release, I’m going to say this once and only once: these games are overpriced. There is no way a 20 year old game with less content than a free iPhone game is fairly priced at $Au4 or more based on raw content.

That said, there is a nostalgic value to these games, so in the interest of being fair, we’ll review these games as though they are reasonably priced, because Nintendo’s pricing policy isn’t a real reflection of the quality of a game as a game. So, is Tennis a good start for the new download shop?

Who needs awesome 3D visuals when you have simple elegance?

In short, yes. Though it’s a primitive game of tennis, we can forgive Tennis for that – it is a primitive game. It’s just a primitive game that plays remarkably well.

You’ll be in playing this game in no time. There’s no tutorial to work through, no create-a-character, no career mode to set up. From the starting screen, you’ve got an option of single player, two player (which I wasn’t able to test… even if it works), and the option to turn the music off. That’s it.

From there you’ve got the choice of four difficulty levels, and then you’re away and playing. In the game, there’s a shot button, and a lob button. You can control the little character with either the circle pad (which incidentally makes the game easier to control than the original version), or the much less comfortable D-pad if you want to get traditional.

Each of the four difficulty levels feature the same AI, just sped up to increase the difficulty. The game itself controls nicely – shot direction and power is decided by a combination of movement and timing, and because it’s all-to-easy to hit the ball out of the court, there’s a definite level of skill involved in mastering this game. It helps that characters and the ball animate smoothly, although the physics are, unsurprisingly, not there at all.

The only time it becomes difficult to play is in assessing where lobs will land. Modern tennis games typically use an icon on the court to give you an idea of where a lob is going. Here, you don't have that luxury. It does mean you'll lose some points cheaply, but the AI doesn't spam the lob either, so it's not too frustrating.

One of the great ironies of the game is that the ‘hardest’ difficulty mode, Level 4, is actually the closest to a modern tennis game, and therefore the most comfortable and ‘easiest’ to play by modern standards. Level 1 especially is too plodding and slow to be much fun.

Box art back in those days was awesome

The only real downside to playing this game as a single player experience (because that’s what you’ll be doing here) is the AI is about as complex as you could expect for a Game Boy game. Once you figure out the holes in the AI’s defence, winning the game is a case of doing the same thing over and over again. When it gets that clockwork, it’s probably time to move to the next game.

All said, it’s still a fun game of tennis, and it looks better on the 3DS’ screen than I expected. Are you going to be playing it for hours on end? No. Are you going to keep coming back to it for short bursts for months or even years? Probably. It is a genuine classic.

- Matt S

Review: Tennis (3DS Virtual Console)
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