Tennis was a perfect arcade game. It was fast, fun, simple and had a lot of skill involved. Its straightforwardness gave it a competitive advantage over other sports games. Plus, going PvP with a buddy was a blast. Times change and the genre might not be as popular as it used to, but back in the day, it was one of the most well-liked sports around for video games.
We are seeing the age of non-arcade games at the moment with FIFA, PES, Fortnite and what not, but trust me, arcade tennis games were a Grand Slam to play. With that said, If you have not checked out many of them, then you can use my top 5 list to find those that kept us gamers glued to coin-op machines.
So come join me on the Court and let’s take a look at the best ever made!
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5. Vs. Tennis (developed and published by Nintendo in 1984)
Nintendo first produced the Nintendo VS. System in 1984, which were focused on two-player co-op or multiplayer gameplay. There were a lot of games released for different VS. System machines, including Dr Mario and Tennis.
The VS. Tennis game was released in the same year and is the multiplayer mode only version of the title released for the NES (and simply called “Tennis”). The arcade port uses a double system with two screens and also comes with four controls.
The VS. Systems were amazing and – needless to say – I have a lot of memories from jumping into games with my friends’ thanks to these machines. The VS. Tennis system was no different and the dual-screen set-up was perfect for this title. It let both teams use one screen each and to be honest, not having this would have made the game harder to play.
VS. Tennis was pretty simple gameplay-wise and the simple graphics were nice, but the multiplayer is what made it memorable.
4. Ultimate Tennis (developed and published by Art & Magic in 1993)
Ultimate Tennis includes the four Grand Slam tournaments, so players can go around the world to compete in the best tourneys in Tennis. There are also six players to select from, who all have a variety of characteristics and techniques, which allows for more replay value.
Developers did a good job for the music and sound effects. For one thing, the crowd noise brings a lot of life into the matches. Overall,Ultimate Tennis is great fun, the atmosphere is fantastic and the gameplay is highly engaging.
There have been a lot of titles with the same name, and while they might have had some inspiration from this one, there is no sequel to the arcade game. Still wondering why…
3. Passing Shot (developed and published by Sega in 1988)
Also known in Japan as Center Court, Passing Shot was produced for the arcades but it did get releases for the Commodore 64 and some other platforms as well, including Amiga and Atari ST. This does make it easier to find a physical copy, even though no port can compare to the arcade version.
PS takes players all over the world to different types of tennis courts from the Grand Slam countries (Australia, England, France and the USA). The single player mode has four difficulty levels, with the first (and easiest) being the Roland Garros final.
Fun fact: you do not need to win the French Open to advance to the harder levels. If you are not comfortable on clay, you can skip to the hard of the US and the Australian Open or even directly to Wimbledon’s grass, the final (and hardest) stage.
This little gem has a lot to love with great graphics, a good combination of serve styles, difficulty options and the ability to play doubles with a friend. It was a great option at arcades and one that I still enjoy occasionally.
2. Super Slam (developed and published by Playmark in 1993)
Playmark’s effort was only released for Arcade machines. The game is kind of rare as a result. However, it is listed on some retro consoles, and I personally saw it in a couple of arcade bars. So there is still a chance to play this great title, if you originally missed it. Just do not expect to see many Super Slam arcade machines for sale anywhere.
As for the gameplay, Super Slam allows for up to 4 players at once and I have a few fun memories from playing it multiplayer at my local arcade. Playing doubles or singles with friends was always fun, but the single-player campaign was equally enjoyable. The AI is a pretty tough opponent and it gave everyone a run for their money, with those topspins and sharp angles.
Further, the game is kind of humorous: in addition to featuring the best tennis players of the time (listed by their first names), you can also choose to play as an old guy, a young boy or even a dog. Oh, and if you cannot get over a wrong call, you can show your displeasure by hitting both the linesmen and the ballboys. Not an example of sportsmanship, but hey, those were the arcade days, lol.
Speed Spin (developed and published by THC in 1994)
The only table tennis game on this list, but it deserves the mention. As a table tennis enthusiast, Speed Spin was a great alternative to when real tables were taken, at my local arcade.
Honestly, people initially welcomed this title with skepticism. I clearly remember some of my friends trying to talk me out of playing it. They went: “Nah, we can play it for real, here… Who cares about a ping-pong video game?” However, they soon had to eat their words.
Nowhere near a masterpiece of course, but the gameplay was surprisingly good. Those curved shots made every PvP match unpredictable and allowed for multiple strategies and styles of play. Plus, the single player mode was nice and challenging. Our world cup ambitions were given some tough tests against 8 fictional players from 8 different countries.
Not many table tennis games were released for the arcade, but this one was definitely the best.
And now… Ready to find out the top seed on this list? All you need to do is keep reading…
1. Virtua Tennis (developed by Sega AM3 and Sumo Digital, published by Sega in 1999)
Virtua Tennis is one of the few arcade sports games to have multiple sequels. Also known as Power Smash in Japan, it is one of the newer arcade games and it did get released for Dreamcast, Game Boy Advance and Windows PC as well.
The same happened for the next two episodes, which saw the light both on arcade machines and on household consoles. So it is not hard to get a copy of a game from this superb series, thankfully!
The Arcade mode takes players through different venues and court surfaces as well to win a tournament. Winning enough matches will let the player face one of the bosses of the game. If you get one of the console versions then you will see it has more modes.
Despite this, the arcade version is a lot of fun and being able to play with a second player increases the overall wow factor it has. The graphics look amazing – which is no surprise considering how “new” it is – and the atmosphere makes it feel truly special.
Easy to learn, hard to master, eye-candy animations and with a special focus on the “simulation” aspect… You could not ask for more from a sports game, in 1999!
So retro folks, Virtua Tennis is my favorite, but I acknowledge it is a much newer game compared to some of them on this list. Is it fair to compare them, then? Are they all retro or are some more retro than others? Do you think I should have split this list up, like I did for the arcade racing games from the 80s and from the 90s?
What is certain is that as far as arcade Tennis games go, there are some great ones. So, be sure to drop a comment to let me know what your favorites are and if there are any titles you think that should have been featured on this post.
Till next list!
Only one arcade sports genre left to cover, but it is also my favorite one. So, you do not want to miss my final series of rankings, do you? All you need to do is click on the red bell and subscribe to my push notifications. Easy as that. 🙂