Way back in 1958, before online multiplayer, there was Tennis for Two. The first two player videogame, it was the first of what would become countless tennis simulations for home consoles.
Tennis was there at the birth of videogames for a reason: its two player competition is the essence of simplicity in sport, and lends itself brilliantly to digital simplification. We’ve come a long way since Pong, and to our modern eyes Stickman Tennis may seem as visually archaic as that old faithful, but crucially this 21st century app doesn’t tinker too much with the back-and-forth formula established by Atari 40 years ago and instead focuses on providing a fun, pocket-sized tennis experience.
The gameplay is the definition of simplicity. Three shot types– lob, slice, and topspin– are possible through pressing different buttons on the screen, though our unpracticed eyes discerned little difference between the three. If you choose to play with automatic running on, scoring involves only successfully returning the ball before your opponent makes a mistake, which makes for a simple yet tense and engrossing experience. You have quite a large window of time in which to return the ball, which works well for novices but players with the skills of Federer could end up feeling coddled.
Giving up control to the computer is the best choice for novices, although this occasionally brings with it frustration as your little guy makes questionable decisions regarding positioning. More advanced players can choose to direct movement using the awkwardly-placed virtual joystick and control the strength of their shots by holding down the shot buttons before releasing. Text that pops up after every shot rating your timing helps fine-tune your play.
You can choose from single match or tournament game types. There are 64 tournaments to conquer if you’re the competitive sort, although Game Center leaderboards and achievements would have helped in providing incentive to smash your way through all the ranks. It’s also disappointing that there’s no create-a-player mode, as customization would have added needed depth and longevity to the tournament mode.
The presentation here isn’t fancy but it’s effective: the grunts and squeaks and pongs of the racket strings go far towards evoking the atmosphere of a real tennis game. Tennis fans will also chuckle at the player names: you will encounter “Novac Doctovic” and “Andy Marruy”, along with 98 other top-ranked players who come complete with (presumably) accurate stats.
Stickman Tennis is the essence of the sport capably downsized for the App Store. It has pretensions to depth that it doesn’t really fulfill, but as a modern-day answer to Pong it works well to fill those empty minutes in your day. From tennis on our TVs to tennis on our phones… What’s next—playing tennis with the power of thought?