Posted on June 23rd, 2009 8 comments
Release Date: 8/12/88
Price: 4900 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 23.25 / 30.00
Kōgien: “A truly excellent tennis game, one that was later actually ported to arcades. A variety of ways to enjoy the game, from the multitap four-player matches and RPG-like quest mode to single matches against some very unique players.”
Hey! Where do you think this music comes from? An RPG? A fancy medieval military situation? Pfft! Whatever! If you said “an arcade port of a tennis game,” then you win the glory, the immortality, the genteel comfort that arises from knowing so much about tennis games.
Namco’s PCE library is chock full of arcade ports (they didn’t put out an original game until ’89), but this is a bit of a different case. World Court is a port of the Famicom title Family Tennis, released over there in December of 1987, the first of a long line of tennis games that can be traced all the way to 2007’s Smash Court Tennis 3 on the PSP. It could be argued that Family Tennis was the first video-tennis title of the 8-bit generation that both was fun and looked recognizably like tennis. I owned Nintendo’s own Tennis as a child, hated it, and still played it to death. I was a child, so I had a tolerance for this sort of thing.
Like the baseball titles of the era, all the players in the game have names that are highly reminiscent of real athletes, but not enough to elicit lawsuits — Ivan Lendl becomes “Condle” こんどる, and Mats Wilander is “nirande-ru” にらんでる, Japanese for “staring at you.” Horrible puns are the order of the day here.
This PCE port, besides featuring nicer graphics, allows for 4-player doubles via the Multitap, making this the first title on the system that could be called a multiplayer “killer app” with a straight face.
But the real highlight of the PCE World Court, in my uncultured opinion, is undoubtedly the cheapo RPG mode they threw in. The fact there’s an RPG in World Court should give you some idea of how intensely popular role-playing was as a genre on Japanese consoles around this time. (It’s also amusing to think that this is the PCE’s second RPG chronologically after Jaseiken Necromancer.)
The RPG mode is, to say the least, pretty forced. You are the hero of the land of Ohanahan (a spoof of Aliahan, the world Dragon Quest III is set in), and you must go out on a quest to eliminate the evil tennis overlord who’s stolen a mystical tennis ball and passed out pieces of it to his underlings. Instead of random battles, you have random challengers who you run into on the world map; you have the right to refuse their challenge (ie. run away from battle), but sometimes it fails and you’re forced to play a game of tennis anyway. There is no experience system, so instead you power up by earning money from tennis games and purchasing equipment in towns — rackets increase your serve velocity; shirts make it easier to refuse matches (how does this work?! Am I wowing the dude with my rad ’80s tennis gear?!); and shoes bump up your running speed.
There is something very charming about this mode, despite its lame RPG elements and loony, in-jokey dialogue (the humor of which is sadly erased in the poorly-written TG16 localization). It’s mainly the quick pace, I suppose — you can warp between previously-visited towns at will, and none of the tennis battles take more than a couple minutes to resolve. A good player can wrap everything up in a couple of evenings, and the gameplay — like I said, this is the first really fun 8-bit tennis game — more than keeps your attention.
I’m a bit torn over which video to include with this entry. YouTube is more convenient for all of us, I know, so I’ll just paste this video of some sample gameplay. I’d really like to attach this Nico-video, though — it shows a player fighting the last boss without collecting all the pieces of the magical tennis ball, which means that the tennis overlord’s serves are ridiculously fast. Hilarious to watch.