CTTG #4: Davis Cup Tennis

For the fourth game in my TurboGrafx-16 conquest, I chose to go with Davis Cup Tennis, a sports game and one I never had or played back in the day.

Boy, was that painful.

There’s a lot of reasons why Davis Cup Tennis is a terrible game. Major reasons. Let’s go through them.

A Tennis Game for Hardcore Tennis Fan That Don’t Play TurboGrafx-16

This game features an annual tennis tournament that the average gamer has probably never heard of in the Davis Cup. This is an international tournament involving several countries who pit teams of players against each other in one-on-one matchups. The rules and tournament seeding are neither intuitive nor a sensible choice for a video game. Why not highlight the U.S. Open or Wimbledon? By branding it with a team tournament, you’re forcing a single player to be dependent on AI teammates.


A Disastrous Menu System

This may seem nit-picky, but it’s not. The menu flunks in every way imaginable and makes setting up a game a nightmare.

First, it doesn’t ever let you go back. Generally, pressing the B button when navigating a menu will back you up to the previous screen. That’s not possible here. Picked the wrong thing? You literally cannot change your mind. Whatever choice you made is permanent and when you get to the end the only way to pick something different is to reset the game.

That’s obnoxious, but what’s more infuriating is that when you reset the game it resets all your settings! The game speed, sets per match, and display mode are all defaulted to not-so-savory options and you have to remember to change them back every single time you reset.

How could they get this so wrong?

The Tennis Court is Apparently Unimportant

Graphically, Davis Cup Tennis shows a very vertically compressed view of the tennis court. In fact, the opponent’s side is virtually compressed completely behind the net.

Just look at this!

Courts are vertically squeezed to feature their "split screen" display...but, who wants that?

Courts are vertically squeezed to feature their “split screen” display…but, who wants that?

What the game is going for is to allow every player to play from the bottom of the screen. Obviously, you’d never want to play in the far court because look how tiny the player is there…and how squeezed the space is! Of course, this curse is self-inflicted because the developers decided to eschew a more “birds eye” view of the court for this “over the shoulder” view. The end result is a court that is squeezed into just 1/3’rd of the available space on the screen!

To make matters worse, to save the time of making multiple views of the court using 2D graphics, this is the only view you can get even if you’re playing in one-player mode. They fill in the top of the screen with an oversized scoreboard and fans.

The end result is a truly awful design decision that makes for a very small margin of error when trying to hit the ball. Awful.

No Career Mode

Not every sports game has a career mode, but the reason why this is such a glaring, missing feature is because the game simply begs for it to be there! When you play a game, and pick your player, you’re asked to take your perfectly average skills and modify them to your liking. This is done by giving you 30 “credits” that you can use to make any aspect of your game better: forehand, backhand, serve, smash, etc.

These 30 credits, though, are the only ones you’ll get the entire game. No amount of training or winning will earn you more. This seems grossly borked. The game would be far more engaging if winning matches could win you credits that can up your player quality. Think RC Pro Am or Andre Panza Kick Boxing.

You’re left with an average, marginal player for who you can use throughout the game. A career mode would’ve made this game so much more engaging.

The AI is Near Perfect

Ask any game developer and they’ll tell you that it’s harder to make AI dumb than to make it brilliant. The difficulty in making tennis AI is that it needs to be mortal, unable to make every shot, but it can’t simply miss randomly. When you beat the AI opponent, it has to feel believable. That’s not easy. Still, in Davis Cup Tennis, you can hit the ball back and forth for an hour and the AI will never miss.

As a result, the strategy to win becomes a bastardization of tennis. In my case, beating Ivan (the top player in the game) involves soft serves that let me run to the net and then deaden the ball when I hit it. This encourages Ivan to hit the ball into the net because he can’t handle this shot.

This isn’t tennis. In fact, I feel somewhat cowardly. Yet it’s a necessary strategy that happens to defeat AI which is too difficult to beat otherwise.

So, I’ve conquered Davis Cup Tennis, but I don’t feel good about it.

Up next, JJ and Jeff!

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About John Blanco

John Blanco is an avid game collector and loves to write about his hobby as much as he participates in it. He run the Denver Retro Gamers Facebook group in Denver, Colorado, and coordinates swap-style meetups with dozens of other collectors every couple of months.

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