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 :

Dragon-Quest-NES-Screenshot-2

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.

World Court Tennis Screenshot 2015-06-22 20-03-58

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.

NEXT TIME: WE GET ON WITH IT ALREADY (FOR REAL THIS TIME)!

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