While it may look crude by today's standards, Activision's Tennis was nothing short of revolutionary in 1981. I received the game when I was 12-years-old and, after being schooled on Pong, Tennis was amazing. Programmer Alan Miller managed to pack a three-dimensional court, players which actually resembled human beings carrying tennis rackets and realistic scoring in a game which required a little strategy to master. The game was addictive back then and remains so today.
The three-dimensional effect, of course, was the highlight of the game. The player can move all over his side of the court and set up various angles in order to try to keep the ball as far away from the opponent as possible. The ball even casts a shadow which both adds a realistic touch to the game and makes it easy to set up shots. Even the computer opponent provides a challenge. Great stuff for 1981.
Now, all is not perfect here. You can't hit the ball out of bounds, for one thing, and it's impossible to control the power of your shots, for another. Sure, rushing the net will require your opponent to react quicker to shots and it's a good strategy to master net play, but some lobs and smashes would have been nice. Regardless, those are minor complaints considering most of us were used to Pong when Tennis was released.
The graphics are effective, but they're very simple. You get a green tennis court (naturally) with a solid net and no "out" lines. Forget about backgrounds or anything else - the green court dominates the entire screen. The players are animated well, but they do resemble stick figures and are each rendered in one color.
The sound is rather simple, too. You get a noise which is quite effective at rendering the noise a ball makes when it bounces on a cement court or is hit by a racket. However, that's about it for sound effects. Sure, you get a chime when a point is scored and similar tones when a game or set has ended, but that's about it.
Still, it's really hard to complain about the gameplay. The control is simply brilliant. The players swing at the ball automatically, so one simply has to concentrate on figuring out angles and ball placement. Hitting the ball off the end of your racket will result in a sharp angle, but there's a risk - if you're too far away from the ball, you'll miss it completely. The joystick is very responsive and the players can be moved quickly. Activision was typically good at providing accurate and responsive controls in their games, and the company certainly didn't fail here.
There are four games here - two at "full speed" for one or two players, and two at "slow motion" for one or two players. The "slow motion" games are really quite dull as they can last forever. Indeed, this game relies on quick reflexes as much as anything, and removing that element from Tennis results in games which drag on forever.
Like I said, this game hasn't aged well in terms of graphics, but the gameplay is solid. This is still a very fun and common game and remains a worthwhile purchase.