It’s no secret that I was brought up on Master System. What was the standout sports sim? Wimbledon, that’s what. I’m amazed at how many retro gamers haven’t played this game. I mean, it’s named after our major open event, nay, the world’s biggest tennis championship. It’s licensed by the AELTC an all. There are several reasons why current gamers wouldn’t approach this now but the main one I did is because it was always available in Blockbuster. The now (pretty much) defunct store was the source of much pleasure and I must have rented this at least four weekends on the spin…
It hasn’t aged well. The intro screens that used to entice me into some quick doubles action look blocky and dull although the title screen showing the logos is still a thing of 8-bit beauty. 8-bit tennis games hadn’t been great prior to 1992. That’s a lie. They were bloody awful (still better than Andre Agassi on the 16-bit though – Ed). Not only did this game come with the usual exhibition options but also a “tour” mode. Yes, you can actually build your own character and receive skill points as you win games/tournaments (represented by the four major tour events, Wimbledon coming last). No battery backup but a password system will do just fine thank you.
Options galore, what happens when you actually play the game. Several things. Alright, I’ll go into a bit more detail. The game only has sixteen COM players, which means you always start in the round of 16. One game and you’re in the quarter finals, hooray! Make sure you don’t have your television volume up loud because you’re about to hear some of the worst music and sound FX ever made on 8-bit. It’s not that the music is just bad, it’s uptempo and extremely repetitive. I stopped playing the game two hours ago and it’s still in my head. The sound FX, as usual with the MS in those days, has been borrowed from other games and often in random places, let the ball hit you and you’ll see what I mean. The crash-effect when hitting the ball is pretty satisfying though.
There were better looking games on the MS in those days but seeing how much game was squeezed in here, I’ll forgive the two-tone courts and tiny sprites (don’t play this on a 14″ TV like I did back in the day – no wonder I need glasses). The animation isn’t anything to write home about either, every movement having around 2-3 frames. And let’s not mention the lack of the need for white kit at Wimbledon (maybe the game was ahead of its time socially – Ed). There is a rather pretty “pause” screen that shows the score with some uninterested looking ball girls, but who presses pause on a Master System?
So the sound isn’t great and neither are the graphics, why did I love it so much? The experience. Even now, ploughing your way through the tournaments and building your character is a joy. Despite being fast as the preverbial morning movement, the forgiving collision detection and range of shots you can pull off make for a satisfying game engine. You’ll revel at your player sprite dancing around when he’s won a game and also at your disconsolate opponent having a cry. The learning curve is perfect. You’ll whizz through the first couple of rounds of each tournament in your first pro-year, building up those skill points, and then boom! You win your first major, complete with presentation ceremony and the roar of the crowd behind you. It’s all in 8-bit but I’ve yet to experience a more satisfying winning feeling, Top Spin, Anna Kournikova, Virtual Tennis all included.
The aforementioned flaws will put you off if you’ve never played this game before. In fact, if you’re running this on an emulator the music alone will make you load up something else. Get out your Master System (complete with dodgy controllers), stick in the Wimbledon cart and get ready for a lot of thumb cramp. Your inner Boris Becker will thank you.