When it comes to virtual tennis I have two main reference points: Tennis for the NES back in 1984 and Wii Sports Tennis in 2006. Since my pattern seems to be waiting 15-20 years to try out a new tennis game, it's the perfect time for a game called Tennis the Menace to pop up on Steam.
And I'm excited to see Tennis the Menace finally fixes the main problem with tennis as a sport: the lack of powers like bullet-time and teleportation. Finally, a bit of magic in the so-called sport of kings.
"So you've just chased down a drop-shot with your greatest effort and you're happy just to get the ball back into play," read's the game's description on Steam. "You find yourself off to the side of the court watching as your opponent is left with an easy shot into an open court. What to do?"
Traditionally you'd stand there watching your opponent completely stuff you, or you might try throwing your racket at the ball, or maybe protest to the judge that the ball was out. But those wouldn't be guaranteed to work. So, Tennis the Menace invented a new option for you to quickly cross the court: "instantaneously teleport into a position where you can hit the ball."
Yes, a blink-style teleportation skill definitely comes in handy in tennis, but it's not the only superpower you have in Tennis the Menace. You can also slow down time. Does your opponent have a blisteringly fast serve or return? Who cares? You can control time. Their vicious overhand smashes become harmless, languid lobs.
If this sounds like a cheat code to make winning every tennis game easy, well…it definitely isn't. In Tennis the Menace, just learning how to serve or return the ball is going to challenge your muscle memory. It's played with a keyboard and mouse, and you use the mouse buttons to select the spin and power, not actually hit the ball itself, and you aim your shot "at an invisible vertical plane above the tennis net." It's… weird. It's one of the weirder sports games I've played and so far I haven't mastered much except a couple of basic serves.
And as for your abilities, they're activated with the QWER and ASDF keys, so get used to using those two rows while clicking two mouse buttons (and sometimes holding one) while aiming at a spot over the net with the mouse. As you play a match, you intermittently get to upgrade your abilities, too, everything from your magic powers to your movement skills to the various types of shots you can make to something called "health bar distance."
Look, even after playing a bit I can admit I don't entirely get everything going on in this game. But it's definitely a fresh take on tennis, and even though I don't fully understand it, I like it. You'll find Tennis the Menace on Steam for $6.