World Court Tennis – Into the Dirty South

Scan0006World Court Tennis
TurboGrafx-16, 1989
Developer: Namco
Publisher: NEC

Though I had conquered my personal demons and demolished the sinister Sevens, my journey was far from over. Hell, I still wasn’t exactly sure what my goal was. Tennis Kings, pearls… they were all meaningless symbols as this point. In my quest to save a kingdom of seemingly well-to-do WASPy-looking tennis zombies, I had stumbled upon a much more personal mission – a mission to fulfill the prophecy and become the greatest tennis warrior on neo-pangaea. I had really gone up my own ass.

In my travels, I had noted that there was a desert to the south of France. If video games and anime have taught me anything, it’s that walking through a desolate wasteland by yourself is a surefire way to become good at anything. The path was clear.

World Court Tennis - Quest Mode 8.3.2015 Screenshot 2015-08-13 20-07-15

I had heard the legends of how bad Spain’s economy had gotten, but this was taking austerity measures to extremes. The trek through the desert was long and arduous. I had to pause to refresh my Jack and Coke no less than 3 times. At times, I began to wonder if I was hallucinating.

World Court Tennis - Quest Mode 8.3.2015 Screenshot 2015-08-13 20-10-07

It had to be a mirage. There was simply no way I had been challenged to tennis match by a cat man in a bald cap. Illusion or not, this horrifying chimera was an obstacle. And obstacles were for killing.

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Strangely enough, the tennis courts which emerged from the sands of the Iberian wastes were made of CLAY. I have no idea why “a” Tennis King was so upset about the fact that all his tennis courts had been seized, when clearly the entire ecosystem of his kingdom had been utterly destroyed by whatever apocalyptic event had formed the FrancoChicagoNippon landmass. While playing on clay proved challenging, my “C” level gear allowed me safe passage through the sandy seas of illusion. “C.” It must stand for “clay.”

Before long, the desert gave way to a forest, and within that forest, an isolated town.

World Court Tennis - Quest Mode 8.3.2015 Screenshot 2015-08-13 20-07-54

By my estimation, I had just crossed the tattered remnants of Spain, and I was roughly on the same longitude as Chicago… ahh, screw it. There was no sense in guessing any more. I was just going to go with my gut. And my gut told me this was the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Not by a long shot. Clearly the architects of this world were not concerned with the impact its design might have on grade school geography scores. The forest had been none other than the legendary Sherwood. England! The birthplace of tennis! Surely my legend would grow to phenomenal heights! It was time to march on London-town.

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Oof. Wimbledon? More like Wimbledon’t. There wasn’t much left of London. It was as if giant giant blancmanges from the planet Skyron had run roughshod over the entirety of the U.K. I was now accustomed to this though. Every major metropolis had been reduced to a shadow of its former-self in this surprisingly cheerful sports-themed dystopia. Regardless, it was time to fraternize with the limeys. Fortunately there were only three of them, and one of them, a Sevens clone, had met me at the door.

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I assumed this was a metaphor for the maze of personal torment we must all navigate on the path to greatness.

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Ah, at least whatever destroyed London had left some semblance of an economy intact. “B” level gear! And having fought my way across the desert, I now had enough tennis bitcoins to pay for it! “B.” It had to stand for “Björn.” Lacking any semblance of the dramatic importance of this development, I convinced myself that I had acquired the gear of the legendary tennis warrior Björn Borg. That was it. Yep.

With that, I tightened my headband, pulled up my short shorts, and began my search for THE MAZE.


World Court Tennis – Genre Pioneer

Scan0006World Court Tennis
TurboGrafx-16, 1989
Developer: Namco
Publisher: NEC

Fear not, tennis fans – I haven’t abandoned my quest. Quite the opposite, in fact. However, sifting through 6 hours of virtually identical looking footage of video game tennis can be quite time-consuming. Particularly when you’ve got a day job! The quest, for good or for ill, has concluded. It will be chronicled in due time.

With the defeat of Sevens, though, we’ve hit what is more or less the turning point in STEV’s tennis legend. He’s finally accumulated enough tennis capital to do some real damage. That being the case, in the time-honored tradition of pointless cliffhangers, I can’t think of a better time to interject a video game history lesson that nobody asked for. Here we go!

Dragon Quest was one of the first (if not the first) role playing games released for a home video game console. Released to Japanese audiences in 1986, Dragon Quest was a rousing success, selling millions of copies and spawning 9 sequels (with many more undoubtedly on the way). It’s often credited with creating the genre we now know as the “JRPG” – the Japanese Role-Playing Game.

If you simply google “Dragon Quest 1 Screenshots,” you’ll get a very clear idea of the the visual and gameplay style Namco was aping when they programmed the quest mode for World Court Tennis :


That’s Dragon Quest. This is World Court Tennis:

World Court Tennis - Quest Mode Screenshot 2015-07-15 18-55-30

You COULD call World Court Tennis’ quest mode a blatant ripoff. However, given the fact that the HuCard also contains a full-featured non-quest-based tennis game, I’m willing to give the developers the benefit of the doubt. We’ll just call  it a “loving tribute” instead.

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This, in and of itself, isn’t terribly interesting; loads of games have borrowed liberally from Dragon Quest. Your average American gamer in the late ’80s, however, wouldn’t have known this. Dragon Quest didn’t make its way to North America until August of 1989, when Nintendo renamed it Dragon Warrior and unleashed it on the Western audience, in an effort to introduce Americans to the RPG craze that had taken Japan by storm.  Dragon Warrior certainly wasn’t the first RPG to make it to the Western console market – Sega’s Phantasy Star arrived at some point in 1988 – but it may as well have been. These days, it’s commonly thought of as the game that introduced the Nintendo generation to RPGs.

This is precisely why World Court Tennis must have been a really confusing present for a select few American boys and girls back in 1989. Not only were they confused as to why their parents got them a TurboGrafx-16 instead of a NES , their tennis game was a bizarre cross breed of a sports sim and a genre they had probably never SEEN before. Seriously, this is funny now –

World Court Tennis - Quest Mode Screenshot 2015-07-01 20-09-42

– but can you imagine how weird this must have seemed to some 8-year-old tennis fan back in 1989?  It might as well have been named “Ivan Lendl’s Magical Pearl Quest.”

Making this even MORE interesting is that the best North American release date I can find for World Court Tennis is “1989.” The TurboGrafx-16 launched on August 19, 1989. Assuming the Internet is accurate, and World Court Tennis, was, in fact, released between August 19 and December 31 of 1989, it was likely among the very first console RPGs released in America. There’s a slight chance that it even beat Dragon Warrior to the market – it DEFINITELY arrived before Final Fantasy, which didn’t hit North American shores until mid-1990.

So there you have it. Not only was World Court Tennis a surprisingly decent tennis game for its time, it was also one of the first RPGs released to American audiences. Definitely among the first ten.

And with that, we will return you to your regularly scheduled programming.