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Mario, Mario Tennis Aces
Mario Tennis Aces. Image taken from iMore.com

Game-Set-Match, Nintendo. Just how have they managed to breathe new life into Tennis?

With the recent release of Nintendo’s “Smash” hit Mario Tennis, Aces and Wimbledon fever is hitting the UK. Now is a perfect time to take a look at an often overlooked genre of video games. So, grab yourself some succulent strawberries and drizzle them in fresh cream. Lets step on to the virtual tennis court and discover just how Nintendo have refreshed the genre.

Pong home copmuter game.
Pong. Image taken from dustyconsoles.wordpress.com

Back to Basics

Tennis has been a part of gaming history from the very beginning. Released on the 29th of November 1972 and manufactured by Atari, Allan Alcorn’s Pong flooded living rooms and helped establish Home Consoles and the Video Game industry itself. Although simple compared to the complex nature of video games today, Pong provided addictive and strategic game-play.

Essentially a ‘Table Tennis game,’ this is not the first game of its type. The honour belongs to 1958’s Tennis For Two. Designed for entertainment and demonstration purposes by William Higinbotham. Housed at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. Tennis For Two used an¬†oscilloscope as a monitor. Because game-play was a simple button to hit the ball back and a control knob to adjust the angle of attack, it was fun for everyone.

Rallying Back and Forth

During the home console boom, many tennis games came and went. Many features were added, which included different shot types and surface types. Rosters were expanded and graphics improved. Nintendo had relative success with 1991’s classic Super Tennis, with critics praising the multiplayer integrations. Unfortunately, stating the Single Player modes were nothing special. This trend seemed to stick around for a number of years.

Pete Sampras Tennis
Sampras Tennis, Sega. Image taken from game-oldies.com

Sega went on to release a number of average licensed games such as Andre Agassi Tennis, and Jimmy Connors Tennis. Nothing managed to innovate or improve on the standard formula. As graphics improved and games became more popular the market was open to the next innovation in a fairly successful genre.

Enter Motion Controls

November 19th 2006, Nintendo unleashed the Wii into excited fans living rooms. Selling¬†101.63¬†million consoles worldwide by March 2016. Because of this, it’s safe to say the Wii was a huge success. Bundled with the console was Wii Sports. A selection of game-modes including Tennis. People of all ages were coming together to play this new style of game. The Wii motion controllers helped immerse players into the game more than ever. The game-play was basic and the game itself simplistic, but that didn’t make it any less fun. Players could swing there arms like a real tennis racket, as a result many non gamer could pick it up and have a blast.

Elsewhere, Sony was trying their hand at motion gaming with the Playstation Move. Microsoft were also working on their Kinect sensor. In 2011, Sega published their latest entry in the Virtua Tennis series: Virtua Tennis 4. This was released on all motion capable platforms. As a result it performed fairly well with metacritic averages of 66-70%. Critics were pleased with the multiplayer integrations. The single player had all the usual modes. However, there was nothing noteworthy.

Playstation Move Wand and TV
Playstation Move Wand. Image taken from gigazine.net

Advantage Nintendo

Undeniably, the Italian plumber draws in the fans. So, in the second half of 2000 Nintendo gave Mario his first tennis racket, and let him loose on the Nintendo 64 and Gameboy Colour. The release was met with welcomed critical acclaim, and sold over 200,000 copies in the first two weeks. Mario and his friends added their signature charm to the genre.

Game-play comprised of seven shot types using two main buttons. A different approach in contrast to other games on the market. The original had a solid suite of Multiplayer options and a good selection of Characters. These include Daisy, Wario, Shy Guy and Donkey Kong. The first game was also the first appearance of Waluigi in a Mario game.

As a result of conquering the N64, the iconic plumber moved onto the Gamecube with Mario Power Tennis. And then debuted on the Gameboy Advance with Mario Tennis: Power Tour. With this release, Nintendo was able to distinguish themselves from the competition.

Mario Tennis: Power Tour included a single-player story mode. A first for the series and scoring 81% on metacritic. The RPG story and levelling system was praised by critics and fans alike. Addictive -yet simple- game-play, with the charm of a Mario adventure, this gave Nintendo the edge over the competition.

Mario Tennis Aces boss fight.
Mario Tennis Aces story mission. Image taken from gamerevolution.com

Fast Forward to 2018

With the release of the Switch, Nintendo recently released its latest installment: Mario Tennis Aces. This game combines everything in the previous games, and fleshes out the story mode. Nintendo has managed to craft a game that caters to everyone. The game offers motion controls and an extensive suite of online modes. Most noteworthy: the inclusion of Zone Shots and Trick Shots. At the time of writing, it has conquered the sales charts, proving that even in 2018 a game like this can be relevant.

So there it is. By refining its strengths and focusing on its core game-play, Nintendo has given us a good reason to step onto virtual courts.

Agree or disagree with my opinion? What’s your favourite game? Please let us know in the comments.