The sun beats down on you hard and sweat forms on your brow. Your opponent tosses the ball up and, with a fluid smack, sends it flying over the net. You push against the heat to wind up and slam it back, hoping to trip up the other player. They’re too quick. The ball comes back your way, halfway across the court. You dive. You swing. You miss. On the ground, you feel the sun beating on you even more, and the weight of failure makes it impossible to stand up.
Man, doesn’t tennis sound like fun?
It can be, sure, but I’m all for advocating swapping out your racket with a controller and taking to a digital court. You know, where it’s not hot, and you don’t need to sport head and wristbands to keep the sweat from hindering your game. With these ten best tennis games, you can enjoy the fast-paced sport without being outside in the hot sun.
As with most of my lists, I’m including only one entry per series.
10. Jennifer Capriati Tennis
Developer: System Sacon Publisher: Telenet Japan / SEGA
Named for one of tennis’ top-ranked female players of the 90s, Jennifer Capriati Tennis does the titular player a bit of justice. Though Capriati’s name is on the box, character creation allowed players to build their own tennis legend to take on a journey across multiple tournaments against AI opponents.
Doubles and Singles modes make it easier to jump into the game, which features relatively easy controls and a pretty bland color palette. While far from the pinnacle of tennis games, Jennifer Capriati lent her name to an enjoyable experience for the Sega Genesis.
9. Jimmy Connors Pro Tennis Tour
Developer: Blue Byte Publisher: Ubisoft
Before Jennifer Capriati was earning royalties for her Genesis tennis title, Jimmy Connors was seeing his name pop up on Commodore 64, Atari, and Amstrad consoles everywhere.
Well, maybe not everywhere.
It wasn’t easy developing a complex tennis game for earlier consoles, so you knew when you booted up Jimmy Connors Pro Tennis Tour that it was going to be pretty basic. Luckily, basic works pretty well in this case. The game works well enough to be entertaining, though there are nuances to its many versions that may make one more playable than others.
In 1992, a Super Nintendo version was released with better visuals and more fluid gameplay.
8. Grand Slam Tennis
Developer: EA Canada Publisher: Electronic Arts
When the Nintendo Wii released, it touted motion gaming as the next big thing. That opened the door for sports games to be more interactive, but few actually took full advantage of the console’s physicality. One that did was Grand Slam Tennis, a Wii exclusive that implemented the use of the advanced Wii MotionPlus.
Players had to choose from 23 tennis greats, including ten legends sure to thrill aficionados of the sport. The game was praised for its use of the Wii controller, which players used to carefully volley the ball back-and-forth in a host of different game modes. Among the best ways to play through Grand Slam Tennis was “Grand Slam mode,” a career mode that followed a created player through four Grand Slam tournaments.
It’s far from the perfect tennis game, but Grand Slam Tennis utilized the Wii tech the best way possible.
When you think of a 4D tennis experience, you may imagine feeling the whoosh of the ball speeding past you as you miss your swing. Unfortunately, that technology wasn’t available in 1990, when 4D Sports Tennis released for DOS. I’m not quite sure why they added that “4D” in the title when it was ultimately a first-person tennis game, but I bet it drew plenty of curiosity.
Battling an energy meter, an awkward view, and a difficult AI opponent, players engaged in full games of tennis on a court set in the middle of a sea of green and blue. It’s fairly good looking for a DOS game, and it plays better than you would imagine, though it is a little hard getting used to the nuances of the ball’s hitbox.
It’s likely a nightmare to play today, but 4D Sports Tennis is one of the best tennis games for its day.
6. Tennis Elbow 2013
Developer: Mana Games Publisher: Mana Games
You know a tennis game is authentic when it’s named after a condition most tennis players have experienced at one point in their career. Tennis Elbow 2013 wasn’t just pieced together by an unknowing development team. Real tennis fans created this simulator to satiate their need for a digital version of the sport.
Its more technical nature may grate on casual players a bit, but the game’s in-depth design does capture the subtleties of tennis. From the different court surfaces, each with their own attributes that alter the game, to a collection of over 300 tournaments, there is plenty for tennis fans to appreciate.
Tennis Elbow 2013 can be played alone or with a number of combinations of player vs. computer.
5. Super Tennis
Developer: Tose / Tonkin House Publisher: Nintendo of America
It’s not just good tennis. It’s super tennis.
Developed for the Super Nintendo, Super Tennis is a simple tennis game that’s easy to get into. There are only three game modes, all of which feature players taking on an AI or human opponent. Though tied to a relatively straightforward controller, Super Tennis’ gameplay allows players to perform an array of swings to trip up their opponent.
There’s an array of real tennis legends to choose from, though they’re largely unrecognizable in their cartoonish forms. Still, fans are able to take their favorite players of the early 90s across a series of major and minor tournaments or pair them up with a teammate in Doubles mode.
4. Virtua Tennis
Developer: SEGA AM3 Publisher: SEGA
Later entries of the Virtua Tennis series may have taken it on a downhill slide, but we’ll always have the original to enjoy. That is, if you can still find an arcade cabinet or have your Dreamcast, Game Boy Advance, or N-Gage lying around. Yes, I said N-Gage.
Released in 1999 exclusively for arcades at the time, Virtua Tennis offered a quick, competitive tennis experience set across five matches played on different courses. Unlike many tennis games, which were more rooted in “tennis reality,” Virtua Tennis featured a “boss” that only emerged for the best players. In later console ports, the game featured a campaign mode that offered a bit more of a challenge.
However, players that are old enough will never forget sinking quarter after quarter into the original cabinet. There’s something about the grease-coated controls that simply amplified the game.
3. Mario Power Tennis
Developer: Camelot Software Planning Publisher: Nintendo
If there’s an opportunity for Nintendo to make money off of the red-clad plumber, you can bet they’ll take it, even if it sounds utterly ridiculous. And that’s why we have games like Mario Power Tennis for the GameCube, one of the zanier tennis games you’ll ever get your hands on.
Mario and friends (and villains) team up in this quirky take on tennis. The core elements of the sport are there, but Mario brings his signature brand of weirdness in the form of “Gimmick” courts, “Power Shots,” and varying game modes. Power Tennis enhances the game in ways only Mario and company can do. While it’s not going to satiate that need for a realistic tennis game, it’s a fantastic party game to enjoy with family and friends.
I mean, the AI is good, too, if you’re stuck playing by yourself.
2. Wii Sports
Developer: Nintendo EAD Publisher: Nintendo
Let’s be real. There are two reasons people booted up Wii Sports after the initial craze died down: bowling and tennis. The latter is so chaotic and straightforward that it’s probably the most ridiculous form of tennis, but it’s still a favorite among players. Playing against human opponents is where the real fun is, but taking on the AI had its own perks, especially if you pumped up the difficulty.
Wii Sports was really never anything more than an entertaining tech demo for the Wii Remote. Tennis was one of the better ways to get a feel for how to swing the controller, as the game registered each swing with impressive accuracy.
The best part was cramming four people into a room for a Doubles match. How many televisions do you think were broken because of this game alone?
1. Top Spin
Developer: PAM Development Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios / 2K Sports
Master the swing of the racket in this Xbox classic, later ported to PC and the PS2.
Top Spin may not have been the original tennis video game, but it quickly became one of the best tennis games when you needed to satiate that need for thwacking a ball back and forth. Featuring an assortment of licensed players, Top Gun was a game for actual fans of the sport and featured a Career Mode that really allowed players to immerse themselves in the event.
Using the updated Xbox Controller S, players could master a series of different swings, from the titular top spin, to a tricky slice, to the dangerous lob. Later entries tinkered with the formula a bit, but Top Spin was a classic that evolved the somewhat limited tennis video game concept.
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