I've played tennis since I was about seven years old. That's when my dad started teaching me the sport at the public courts not too far from our suburban Wisconsin home.
I didn't consider myself a tennis fan, though, until I turned 12 or 13. That's when I remember watching Wimbledon on TV for the first time. Or at least that's the first time I remember laying eyes on the player (Steffi Graf) who single-handedly caused me to tune into many more Wimbledons--not to mention Australian Opens, French Opens, US Opens and other, smaller tournaments--in the years and even decades to come.
I say all of this because it should help explain this next comment: as a teen, I played a whole lot of Jaleco's Racket Attack (Moero!! Pro Tennis in Japan). I couldn't tell you how many hours I devoted to it, of course, but I can tell you it wasn't just a passing fancy.
That may shock those of you who have even the slightest amount of experience with this TOSE-developed NES cartridge, as the game isn't exactly considered a classic.
Still, when I was younger, I was fairly obsessed with it--at least for a time. I'm not sure if I ever "beat" it (hell, I'm not even sure its "beatable"). Regardless, I got to know Racket Attack really well at that time in my life.
Unfortunately, none of that seemed to matter whenever I've returned to the game in the last few years. Each time, I walked away from it in disgust after failing to come to grips with its frustratingly awkward controls.
Why did I give it another chance this past weekend? Honestly, I haven't a clue. I guess I was just curious to see if I still thought it sucked. Or maybe I just wanted to play a tennis video game and couldn't think of a better option. At any rate, I booted it up and took a deep breath. Here's a rundown of what happened next:
* Through the first three games of my match (I played as "Gray," while my opponent was "Juana"), I won a single point.
* In the fourth game, I not only won a few points, I won an entire game--on my opponent's serve, no less. This was accomplished by rushing the net like Martina Navratilova in her prime.
* Sadly, that was the only game I won during that first set against the similarly baseline-phobic Juana. I should've won a few more, but I always found a way to screw up those chances. Oh, well.
* Shockingly, I won the first game of the second set. I also started to feel at one with the "down the T" serve at this point. (I pretty much always faulted on it before.) Not that it did me much good, mind you, as I dropped the very next game.
* Although I gave Jauna a tougher time in our match's second set, she eventually ran out to a 5-3 lead. Somehow, I broke her--saving two match points along the way--and got back to 5-5. I lost the next two games and the match (6-1, 7-5), naturally.
Given the above, you may assume I once again walked away from Racket Attack wondering how I could've enjoyed it so much as a teen. In reality, I walked away from it with a grin on my face and the expectation that I'd play it again soon.
This is despite the controls being horribly slippery and every point--every movement, really--feelsing as though the game is stuck in slow motion. Plus, even hitting a routine groundstroke is a challenge at the outset.
And then there's the fact that my hour-long match left me shaking (due to nerves) and with clammy palms and sore forearms (from clutching my controller as though my life depending on it).
On the flip side, my latest run-in with Racket Attack also prompted me to laugh more than I have in some time while playing a game. Also, there's no denying it looks and sounds rather nice. Player sprites are large, if not exactly well animated. Courts are spacious, colorful and appropriately detailed. And the backing tune is surprisingly catchy.
Does that mean I'd recommend it to others? Not really. It's a frustrating game to play and even folks who usually enjoy tennis titles are sure to turn it off in disgust.
For me, though, it's just playable enough for me to return to it now and then--although I have a feeling it'll be some time before I'm able to win a set against, let alone defeat, an opponent.
See also: previous 'Second Chances' posts