Super Tennis, even with its cutesy graphics and lack of player endorsements, still stands head to shoulder above its counterparts despite having the earliest release date among tennis games for the Super NES. With its classically extensive, intuitive paddle play, along with varied character strengths and an upbeat, movie night-esque soundtrack, Super Tennis is relevant up to the 2010s. Indeed, Super Tennis is such a success that there’s reason to wonder why there wasn’t a sequel. However, standing alone further solidifies the game as a masterpiece of the once new system’s capability, and makes the venerable Pong an extremely proud grandparent.
Circuit Mode is the Super Tennis version of international tennis competition. Playing as any one of 20 fictional male of female characters, the User enters a dozen major or minor tournaments, or “Opens,” in as many international cities. The opponents in the tournaments are a combination of the original 20 characters, as well as many others inaccessible to the User. Points are earned based on placement with none given if opting to skip a tournament. Completing the Circuit with the most points earns a large mansion in the ending sequence. Unfortunately, nothing special is awarded to a User making a clean tournament sweep.
Each character has signature strengths and weaknesses as highlighted in the manual. So although you may defeat three blonde haired, blue-eyed North Americans on your way to the championship, you will likely have to adjust your strategy for each match. Such distinct variety among characters makes it easy for the User to form a bond with the player that best fits the User’s strengths. It follows that there are many styles of play and ways to succeed in the game. There’s also room for the loser of a two-player match to boast, “Good match, but you could never beat me with John!” Which, inevitably, leads to another match following the excuse or boast.
Singles and Doubles are similar modes, involving a match of one vs. one or two vs. two. Singles Mode is fun, but nothing can match the heat of a Doubles match. No judgment is passed on the lonesome soul who plays with a computer player against two other computer players, but it’s better to play a friend with a computer player each, and best to play with a buddy vs. two computer opponents. It’s helpful to have characters with conducive strengths; for instance, fitting a fast player with a powerful or accurate character. Still, you can never go wrong with simply picking your favorite character.
There are several trademark manipulations of game play to keep the User‘s interest. Not only can you decide your character and how many sets you wish to play, but you can choose from clay, grass or hard surfaces, each with its own physical properties. You can even change the color of the ball during a match from standard yellow to green, white, or even pink!
The non-athletic individuals of a tennis match have their own role during game play, and are equally trademarks of the Super Tennis universe. Ball-boys in blue forever clear the court of netted shots, while the umpire sits passively high above in his chair. The line judges in black do their duty with eagle-eyes, and every now and then a special fan will be in attendance of a Grand Slam. Although the non-players are the same sprites from tournament to tournament–making them well-traveled professionals indeed–this type of consistency has a positive psychological impact and an appearance of fairness. Line judgments are critically important in tennis, and because replays for the User are not allowed, you’ll just have to make peace with what the authorities give you.
As the crowning achievement of the game, paddle play in Super Tennis is incredibly intuitive and the reason more than any other for the game’s loyal following. Every button on the controller can be used to affect a sturdy volley, which in hindsight was a great way to show off the capabilities of the then-new system. Utilizing ‘L’ and ‘R’ effectively, you might catch your opponent napping and buckle their knees with some nasty English. But nothing beats the most satisfying moment in the entire game: the slam. Most beneficial when positioned by the net, you can hit a ball passing over you with a forceful slam. When placed well, the slam will often score the point, or cause the opponent to make a vulnerable return. When playing Singles, the player will mix up his strategy between net play and back-line play, but in Doubles these responsibilities are generally split. With each team sparing a player for the net, often frantic, popcorn-like action occurs which takes incredible reflexes to weather. Split roles-style play inevitably leads to specializations, and for those able to hone their crafts, lasting partnerships are formed. Thankfully, online leagues exist today where such tandems for the ages can put their skills to real international tests.
There is one strong negative when it comes to Super Tennis’s paddle play. Many computer players simply cannot return service when a strong back-hand is given to their own right side. This AI glitch is clearly an oversight by the developers as Users can use this approach to fairly easily advance through competition. One can always ignore this fault, but one shouldn’t have to rely on feigned ignorance for the bliss of play. It‘s tempting to fall back on this method when competition gets stiff. Thankfully, most human players find no difficulty returning service–yet another reason to find a friend to play.
A game should earn its rating by its own credentials, but sometimes it’s helpful to look at the strengths or weaknesses of its next of kin. And nearly every other tennis game released on the Super NES has tremendous flaws Super Tennis was able to avoid. One certain athlete-sponsored game features floppy ball movement and literal wind-ups; another superstar-endorsed game has good graphics but very poor visibility; still another game with a tennis player’s name features difficult paddle play and a hatefully annoying announcer. Super Tennis may play slow to some, but when it came to the chief task of welcoming repeated game play, it has stood the test of time with flying colors.
A sports games doesn’t have to be exceptionally realistic in depicting its sport to be a success, and this game is a great example. The day will inevitably come when a visionary gamer takes Super Tennis to the next level with a home brew. It’s plausible that hot-spots, un-lockable real characters (President Obama, Michael Chang and the like) and signature stadiums are all included. But even with the eventuality of a “Super Tennis: Paddle Power Play,” it can never beat the real thing. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but there is no need for invention in the presence of perfection.
Five of Five Stars