The US Open is currently underway. It reminds me of the lack of top-notch tennis video games on PS4 and Xbox One. In short: we need a new Virtua Tennis or Top Spin.
That’s not to say that we completely lack tennis options. There’s AO Tennis 2 and Tennis World Tour (a sequel is coming out this month, actually). And then there is Dream Match Tennis VR if you have PlayStation VR. None of them live up to Sega’s Virtua Tennis and 2K’s Top Spin franchises.
A brief history of tennis video games
I guess you can say tennis games go all the way back to the beginning. Pong launched as an arcade game back in 1972. Due to its popularity, Atari eventually released a home version that connected to television sets. Unlike consoles of today, the system only included a single game. It was called Home Pong and was sold through Sears stores. It helped to put Atari on the map before its Atari 2600 cartridge-based console.
Fast forward to 1981. A company named Activision (you may have heard of it) released a tennis game creatively called… Tennis. You could either play alone or with a friend in a game of singles as a blue or pink character. It may look primitive today, but it was advanced compared to Pong.
Nintendo released its own version of the sport on the NES called – you guessed it – Tennis. The Nintendo Entertainment System version features both singles and doubles matches and competitive or co-op play. Mario acts as the referee. The game was released in 1983 in Japan and 1985 in the United States. It remains one of the more iconic sports games on NES.
It wasn’t until the 3D era that tennis video games got really interesting, in my opinion. Utilizing what is known as Mode 7, Super Tennis attempted pseudo-3D graphics for the SNES way back in 1991. The game features a single-player campaign where you venture around the globe competing in tournaments. It also has fairly good sound effects, different playstyles, and three different court surfaces.
Sega takes the court
So while Atari and Nintendo dominated the early years of tennis and tennis-like video games, Sega didn’t get a smash hit until the arcade release of Virtua Tennis in 1999. It was later ported to the Sega Dreamcast and Windows PC.
The original Virtua Tennis features true 3D graphics and at the time was considered the most realistic tennis simulation on the market. It stands out for its tight yet accessible controls and addictive multiplayer. The game has a World Circuit where you compete in matches and train in clever exercises to improve your skill.
Two years later, Sega released a follow-up on Dreamcast that is known in North America as Tennis 2K2. The first game in the series snubbed female players, which is an unfortunate oversight. Tennis 2K2 added female characters to the mix.
Oh, and you may recognize the cover athletes: sisters Venus and Serena Williams. Serena is only the most decorated player of the Open Era. No big deal, right? Nearly 20 years after the Dreamcast game came out, Serena is still kicking ass on the tennis court in real life.
The most recent game in the series, Virtua Tennis 4, is notable for supporting motion controls. You can play with PlayStation Move on PS3, Kinect on Xbox 360, and MotionPlus on the Wii. Of course, Wii Sports already introduced motion controls several years prior, but Virtua Tennis 4 provides more depth.
Microsoft and 2K put their spin on tennis
The Top Spin franchise made its debut on Xbox in 2003. Microsoft Game Studios published the title under its XSN Sports label. Top Spin is particularly notable for introducing online multiplayer through what was at the time the relatively new Xbox Live service.
The original Top Spin was ported to PC and eventually to PlayStation 2 under the 2K Sports label. (It’s worth noting that 2K Sports can actually thank Sega for the still-popular NBA 2K and the defunct NFL 2K franchises.) In 2006, 2K Sports published Top Spin 2 for the Xbox 360. Meanwhile, Top Spin 3 introduced real-time weather effects and a new player creation tool.
The most recent game in the series, Top Spin 4, features a ton of big-name stars. You can play as everyone from Andre Agassi and Roger Federer, to Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Pete Sampras, and Serena Williams. The PS3 version supports PlayStation Move.
Imagining Top Spin 5 and Virtua Tennis 5
Okay, so Top Spin 5 and Virtua Tennis 5 are not actual games (that we know of, at least). But we can still imagine what it might be like if Sega and 2K decided to release a tennis game on PS4 and Xbox One (or more likely, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series).
The first and most important thing is cutting edge graphics and physics with responsive controls. The presentation should be slick, too, with professional commentary from tennis greats of yesteryear. And while we’re building our wish list, let’s make sure that the roster includes all of the major current players – both male and female – as well as a healthy selection of legends.
Another element that I would love to see return is the fun and innovative training exercises. You can find something similar to this in AO Tennis, but it’s not nearly as inventive as it was in Virtua Tennis. A potential Top Spin 5 could easily do this as well. They could even turn it into a competition with both split-screen and online training exercises with arcade-style scoring.
On PlayStation 4 and PS5, the developers of either Virtua Tennis 5 or Top Spin 5 could include VR support for a total immersion experience. Of course, it may be difficult to safely incorporate motion controls and movement with a VR headset, but the developers can figure something out. This seems like an obvious step for these franchises.
We’re approaching a decade since the last Virtua Tennis and Top Spin games. Given the lack of serious competition, Sega and 2K need to dust off their franchises and make the most of current technology to create the most authentic tennis video game ever released.