It’s kind of amazing when a videogame helps you to learn something about yourself.
I am not a sports guy. I am not one to stand around and tell people playing sports that they’re stupid for doing so (this is a lie), nor am I the type of person to judge someone for spending their Sunday afternoon watching spandex clad beef monsters smash into each other (this is a more obvious lie). For years, I was just under the impression that I never really gained the “sports gene”, and things like ball-watching would never appeal to me. After all, I fit the profile, right? I’ve been playing videogames practically as long as I’ve had thumbs, I’m clearly on the more “intellectual/please don’t take my glasses” end of the spectrum, and, obviously, I have roughly the same muscle mass as a newborn. I’m a nerd, okay? I know it, you know it, Tansit know it, and I’m pretty sure my fashion sense lets everybody else know it. Sports are not my bag, and that’s the way it was always meant to be.
And it’s here that I’ll note that my father has always been disappointed in that fact.
To be absolutely clear, I have a wonderful relationship with my father. Particularly now that we’re both adults, we can sit down, talk, and, if either of us would actually drink, we would be like two friends having a beer. And, honestly, it feels like bragging to say such a thing, but I feel like my dad “gets me”. We have generally similar personality types, we have compatible interests in a lot of media, and we are very analogous when you compare our average sense of humor. Actually, that last bit probably isn’t an accident (or genetic), as my father exposed me to a lot of his own favorite movies when I was a kid. When you spend a decade laughing at the same things, you’re probably going to reserve those chuckles for the same situations.
So, not unlike my exposure to “his” favorite movies, my father tried to expose me to his favorite sports. I’m almost certain my dad was never a football or baseball “star”, but he certainly played those sports as a kid/teenager, and one would suppose he thought I would have a fun time experiencing these same childhood joys. I did not. And, to my father’s credit, he never “made me” join the local sports team or whatever, as, I’m pretty sure by the time I had dropped out of soccer at the age of seven, my dad knew Sports Son was dead and buried. But this isn’t to say my dear ol’ dad never again tried to get me off the couch. Oh no, I certainly wound up with him in the backyard playing any number of “one on one” type sports.
My father, analytical man that he is, was able to identify my “problems” from a young age. First of all, I seem to be naturally ambidextrous. Or that’s just a lie to make me feel better. It would likely be accurate to say that I have zero arm coordination, and thus flail around like a quaking pot of spaghetti whenever a ball or similar object ventures into my periphery. This, obviously, made simple games like Catch exhausting trials for both of us. And, because I could never settle on a side, golf (or at least mini golf) was difficult to practice (which was a real shame, as I seem to live in the mini golf capital of the East Coast). And, beyond that, I have terrible depth perception. This has been a problem identified by my optometrist since I was roughly five, and, yes, it may have meant I took a few footballs to the face for no good reason. They looked further away! Combine these two inexorable parts of my own physical prowess, and you can maybe understand why, despite trying at least once weekly, my father quickly became frustrated with my sports aptitude. Or maybe he was just frustrated because, after far too many basketballs to the face, my nose really wasn’t supposed to bend that way…
But there was one game where I excelled: bad mitten. Wait… it’s called badminton? Weird. Anyway, my father picked up a pair of badminton rackets and a tube of birdies one day, we gave it a shot, and surprisingly, I was good at it! Okay, “good” might be a bit of an overstatement, but I didn’t suffer any grievous injuries during our first game, and that was an excellent start. As time went by, our Sunday afternoon badminton games became something I actually looked forward to. We didn’t have a net, and neither of us were ever going to be anywhere near pro level, but we had fun, and it was… easy. A badminton birdie (does that have some kind of real sports name?) isn’t going to take out my cheekbones, so I didn’t have to tense up every time the “ball” got close, and the racket sort of forced me to use one hand with some kind of consistency. Somehow, it all came together, and we were able to enjoy our weekly badminton volleys.
Pocket Tennis Color reminds me of those times.
Pocket Tennis Color is a Neo Geo Pocket title from 1999. It seems to follow the SNK pocket format of a fighting game, as it has an eclectic cast of kooky characters (There’s a maid! With a frying pan instead of a racket!), interesting if entirely cosmetic backgrounds, and easy, simple gameplay that is ideal for a portable system with two buttons. In this case, the match is tennis… and it’s just tennis. There are no super moves or hyper gauges or last-minute transformations, it’s just tennis. Hit the ball, wait for your opponent to hit it back, and then repeat until you realize why Pong hasn’t hit the next gen consoles. It’s extremely simple, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. It’s Tennis, in color, that you can play in your Neo Geo Pocket (Color). Thank you for your time.
But, in my time playing Pocket Tennis Color, I certainly had fun. In fact, I had a lot of fun just batting the ball back and forth. I wasn’t trying to win, I didn’t need to conquer a tournament or unlock the secret characters; I was just having fun playing tennis. Back and forth, back and forth, eventually someone scores, but keeping the volley going was a lot more interesting than the winner’s screen. This is by no means a high-stress, you-must-win-or-the-Earth-explodes style tennis game. This whole experience is just an amusing game between friends, and it is fun for that exact reason.
And that’s about when I realized that that’s all I want from sports.
As a masculine, ripped, and perfectly mannish man, I have a hard time admitting to such a thing without fearing some kind of reddit-based reprisal, but I’m not a very competitive guy. In fact, I’d argue that the main reason I like videogames is that they’re games, but not a competition. Bowser and I are just having fun! I don’t need that platinum trophy. And even when we get into fighting games, ostensibly “competitive” titles, I drift toward the games that are more interesting from a design/character perspective, and probably use random select a lot more than anyone would expect. No, I don’t have a “main” so I can “git gud” and “actually beat my opponents”, I just kinda like tossing gigantic fireballs all over the arena. It’s fun! Videogames are fun!
And that’s probably a big factor in why I like badminton and tennis (and tennis pocket games). You don’t break every five seconds to huddle up and discuss your next strategy, you don’t spend all day switching between offense and defense every other inning, and you don’t tear off your gloves and have a fist fight every time the other team calls you a hoosier; it’s just… playing. Sure, it would be nice if you win, but it is fun to bat the ball/birdie back and forth for as long as possible.
So, thank you, Pocket Tennis Color, for reminding me where I can find fun in sports. I’ll be sure to remember that for when I finish this 16-hour Netflix binge.
FGC #399 Pocket Tennis Color
- System: Neo Geo Pocket Color. SNK is really missing a chance to put all the Neo Geo Pocket Color games on the Switch. Come on! SNK Gal Fighters is at an all-time popularity high!
- Number of players: Two! Technically! I’ve never seen such a thing, but I’m sure it’s possible.
- Favorite Character: It’s not unusual for an “anime character” to have bright pink hair. However, it is a little different on the NGP, where a character basically is their palette color. Thus, Lucy is the living personification of the color pink, and my favorite player.
- Favorite Court: The desert canyon stage is pretty interesting, because the tight walls make the ball bounce everywhere. Except… that doesn’t really impact the game at all, because tennis really only cares about the first bounce… so it’s just fun to watch. See! This game is just silly.
- Did you know? There are two unlockable characters, and one is Amiba the Amoeba. She’s a giant amoeba. That’s it! You cannot tell me she wasn’t a dummy character during production that got “promoted” because someone was bored. You can’t even see her racket!
- Would I play again: I might play tennis again, but Pocket Tennis Color isn’t going to see much play. It’s a very limited game on a very limited system.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… NieR: Gestalt! And we’re NieR a milestone, so it’s probably going to be a little different than the usual FGC fare. Please look forward to it!