Super Family Tennis (SFC)

The best damn tennis title on the SNES. Yeah I said it
The best damn tennis title on the SNES. Yeah I said it

Tennis. A sport I rarely played as a youth, never watched and generally never had much of an interest in. Except, oddly, when it came to video games. I always enjoy a solid tennis game. Super Tennis on the SNES gets a lot of love as does Mario Tennis: Power Tour (GBA). One of my favorite Saturn titles is a little known obscure Japanese game by the name of Tennis Arena. So I’m always down for a fun little tennis game. After playing Super Family Tennis, I can honestly say it’s not only my favorite tennis title on the system but it’s actually one of my favorite SNES games, PERIOD. I’ll attempt to explain why with tons of pictures and hopefully not too much incoherent rambling below.

SMASH TENNIS

BTW this came out in Europe as Smash Tennis
BTW this came out in Europe as Smash Tennis
Too bad it never hit North America!
Too bad it never smashed its way into North America

SUPER TENNIS. FOR THE FAMILY. SO SUPER FAMILY TENNIS, THEN

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Super Family Tennis looks normal so far, but play on a bit (or read on in this case) and you’ll quickly see what a quirky and crazy title this is.

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Choose from 20 different players all with varying skills and abilities. There are a total of nine different game modes with all combinations possible for singles and doubles matches. I only wish the character selection would show a preview of your sprite and even a quick statistical rundown, but alas, it’s no dealbreaker by any stretch. Here’s where the game gets special, though: there are eight courts to select. You have your usual standard three but the other five are a bit outlandish (some more than others!)

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Sorry Super Tennis fans but no egregious usage of Mode 7 here. This is just your standard lawn tennis court. Nothing special, but I do enjoy the fans in attendance. Shame though that they’re a slightly more subdued crowd than the one found in Super Tennis. Their applause isn’t as loud. I do like the collective disappointing groan they make in Super Family Tennis though when you mess up.

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These are the other two standard courts. Like I said, nothing special. Typical arenas you would find in any tennis title. But now we come to the other five…

THE RESORT

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Right away the camera gives you a quick sweeping view of the venue and you’re immediately intrigued. From the snow capped mountains in the background to the group of friends hanging out on a balcony watching your match, it’s unlike any other court you’d find in a tennis video game back in June 1993. I appreciate Namco’s attention to detail — everything from the potted plants to the tables. The game gave off good vibes and once I got playing, I truly fell in love with it all.

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Nothing’s better than sending a shot over the head of your opponent and having the ball land just centimeters in front of the boundary. Great feeling that’s only boosted by the quick view you get of the people watching you from above. Good stuff!

"Get that $20 bill ready, Jo!"
“Get that $20 bill ready, Susie!”

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Actually, perhaps this is even sweeter. Hitting the ball and seeing it sail just past the reach of your diving opponent. Insult to injury! And even better, seeing the ball bounce all the way underneath the tables. It’s a great touch. Hey, I’ve always appreciated the little things in video games, and Super Family Tennis serves it on a silver platter! [I C WAT U DID DERE… -Ed.]

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Alright, maybe this is even better than the previous two. They’re all so satisfying it’s hard to pick a definitive winner. The European name for this game is Smash Tennis and this shows you why. Smashing the ball so hard that it literally leaves a shadow trail of sorts is quite gratifying. Its velocity is almost faster than the eye can see. Talk about a crushing blow…

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Diving hits to save your ass are also incredibly satisfying to use. It’s much easier and feels more natural to dive here than it did in Super Tennis, which is only one of several reasons why I prefer Super Family Tennis. When you get caught up in a diving contest with your opponent, it only adds to the drama and intensity of it all.

Send down the hammer!
Send down the hammer!

While diving saves are cute and all, sometimes you just need to put a little muscle behind it and send the ball screaming your opponent’s way. Check this out…

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Smash hits are cruel and quickly humble the player on the receiving end. As an added insult to injury, I love how the ball sometimes can roll underneath a table. It’s totally inconsequential but nevertheless oddly delightful to witness.

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Crushing spirits left and right, these super shots are the cat’s pajamas!

"Fine, here's your $20, Jimmy!"
“Alright, here’s your $20, Jimmy!”

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Shake their hands to honor the age-old tennis tradition, but secretly relish as you watch the opposition slumbering off with their heads drooped. Good stuff!

Nice rundown of the stats
Statistical breakdown postgame

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Namco truly delivers the goods. Not only are there five unique courts but in each of those arenas there’s a certain gimmick or “sight gag” to discover. For example, in the resort you’ll occasionally see a waitress walking around. She’s a bit of a klutz though. You can actually see her falling over! It’s super silly and tons of fun. It just adds to the quirky charm of the game, of which it has in spades.

THE LODGE

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Things start out foggy. A giant lodge can be seen in the background. But rather than sipping on some hot cocoa and having a read of the ol’ paper, you’ve opted instead to head out and brave the freezing cold for a little spot of tennis. You mad daredevil you! A flock of birds can be seen hanging around the premises.

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Visual deterrent? Not really but the fog does add a nice touch. Brrr. You can almost feel the stinging cold, can’t you? [No, not really -Ed.]

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Should the ball reach the fence it sends the birds packing. Pretty cool.

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Pretty soon the fog clears out and makes way for bright sunny rays. From there the shadows of the trees envelop the lower bottom of the screen. Nice!

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Depending on how the ball travels, you can even catch a glimpse of the shadow effect in full. It’s always a pleasant sight to behold, simple though it may be. It’s the small stuff, ne?

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Best of all though is hands down when the flock of birds decide to fly across the screen right as you’re about to serve. Hey, where did the 4th player go there?

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Clearly, she’s a tad bit concerned about what the birds might do to her new do! Talk about being distracted. Look at the poor thing struggling between hitting the ball back and dodging the birdies!

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Never seen a lass dive to get out of the way of potential poopage before, but I guess there’s a first time for everything! Hey, you do what ya gotta do. Oh and Namco, don’t think we don’t see that little monkey (!) in the window there. It’s bizarre as all hell. But at this point, being Super Family Tennis, you just go with it.

THE SHRINE

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Japanese people love tennis, obviously, and this is made abundantly clear with this tennis court situated right in the middle of a Japanese Shinto shrine! It even features a Torii gate for authenticity.

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Remember the feeling of agony as a kid having to chase down runaway balls? Super Family Tennis brings back those warm fuzzy childhood memories! Hey, at least it didn’t go underneath the Japanese Shinto shrine there. I hate when that happens.

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“Awww, do I really have to? But it’s SO far away! Alright, fiiiiiine!!”

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Remember how I said each of the five unique courts have a certain gimmick or sight gag to them? Well this one has two. Here’s the first. See if you can knock the ball into the lion statue there. Doing so prompts the crow to fly away. Neat stuff!

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Here’s the second gimmick/sight gag of the stage. It’s possible to hit the ball into one of the tranquil looking ponds!

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Never gets old seeing the ball bounce over the rocks and into the pond. It makes a nice little SPLASH sound and from there you can see the ball bouncing back up to the surface. Excellent detail, Namco. Two thumbs WAY up :)

THE BEACH

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Listen to the soothing sounds of the waves crashing against the shore. The game relies purely on its sound effects because there is no music whatsoever. It’s an interesting deviation from the norm and I kind of like it, personally. The crashing waves on this stage makes it feel like you’re really at the beach. I love the crowd of spectators as well as that random guy standing there underneath the coconut tree. Boy, it would be a shame if a coconut falls on his head…

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Ocean waves go in and out as you play. It’s a nice effect for sure.

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Check out what happens when you hit the ball at that coconut tree…

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Nearly fell out of my chair the first time I saw this! It just speaks to Namco’s zany brilliance of adding in little details like this. Best of all, it’s not like it’s easy to hit that tree. It doesn’t happen often so it keeps the effect fresh and enjoyable. You can’t help but eat up stuff like this. You know the developers had a blast making this game.

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Speaking of little details, look at that cute little crab dancing its way slowly across the screen. Just another odd random touch that makes me love this game even more.

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Almost got ya there, Mr. Crab! I like seeing the ball roll into the ocean. Part of me almost instinctively wants to shout out “BALL!” but then I remember I’m just playing a video game :P

THE MOUNTAIN

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What’s the best, safest place to play a spot of tennis? Why, on a mountain of course. I like how you can see the forest down below, and I like the detail of the jagged rocks on the mountain. Luckily, you can’t fall off the mountain. Whew…

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Although you can’t fall off the edge, the ball can. Always fun to see the ball go spiraling off the cliff. Next time you go hike a mountain and you find a bunch of tennis balls at the bottom, now you’ll know why. The more you know!

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Shortly after the match begins, you’ll discover a high adrenaline junkie making his way up the mountain cliff. And you thought you were crazy for playing tennis atop a mountain plateau! This maniac makes you look like a chicken…

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Setting up camp, he spends the rest of the match waving. OK, we get it, you rock and you’re awesome but chill out, son. Hmm, if that was a way to stop his antics…

THRILL OF A LAST SECOND SAVE

Can you get to it in time?
Can you get to the ball in time?

One of my favorite moments in the game is when the ball is hit almost half the court away, and it doesn’t seem like you can get to it in time. But you make the effort anyway. And at the very last second possible, you make a last gasp dive…

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Making a last second diving save is awesome. But even better? Doing it and just barely keeping it in play over the reach of your opponent. Nothing gets the blood pumping like this kind of exciting play. Really makes for some great trash talking!

UM… THAT WAS MY BAD, YO. THAT ONE’S ON ME. HEH…

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Unintentionally hilarious, the most “D’OH!” moment comes when you accidentally hit the ball into the back of your partner’s head. D’oh! I love the dirty look they give you as you just kind of stand there going “Heh, um, my bad, yo.”

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

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Birds need to consider their path of flight. After all, we all saw what happened when a bird crossed paths with a Randy Johnson 98 MPH fastball…

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CLOSE! Bloody birds need to be careful…

ATTACK OF THE CLONES

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Mirror selections are possible, with no cheat code required. Now nobody can argue you took their favorite player ;)

SPEAKING OF CLONES

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Which is better, Super Tennis or Super Family Tennis? In my book it’s easily the latter. I appreciate Super Tennis for what it is, but I find Super Family Tennis to be superior, far more fun and far more accessible. Not to mention Super Family Tennis has a four player option while Super Tennis doesn’t. Plus, Super Tennis is pretty straight forward. It’s missing the charm and sense of wacky humor that Namco threw at us with their tennis rendition. Honestly, while I still like Super Tennis for what it is, a game like Super Family Tennis kind of makes it a bit obsolete in my book. It falls in that tragic “great games that I never play any more” category.

ACTUALLY, NOT REALLY A CLONE

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Super Family Tennis isn’t so much a clone to Super Tennis because Namco released Family Tennis on the Famicom (December 11, 1987). It just turned 29 years old! As you can see from the cosmos court, Family Tennis also featured a quirky sense of style that would later carry over to Namco’s Super Famicom sequel.

A SMASH HIT IN THE EYES OF SUPER PLAY MAGAZINE

Super Play loved it, ranking it #71 on their Top 100 list
Super Play liked it, ranking it #71 on their Top 100 list

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Brilliantly simple. Simply brilliant
Brilliantly simple. Simply brilliant

Super Family Tennis is my favorite tennis title on the Super Nintendo, and I’d argue it’s also the best. It’s super easy to pick up and play, with 20 different characters and eight different arenas to play in (five of which are bonkers). It’s full of diving saves, vicious smashes and a sneaky sense of humor you just don’t expect from a game of this nature. But Namco went ahead and did so anyway. And I’m glad they did. Details like the waitress falling over at the resort to the beach bum getting knocked out by coconut have left a lasting impression on my gaming heart. There’s no music but I love the ambient sounds. From the soothing crashing waves of the ocean to the echo chamber sounds of the mountain, it’s something different and refreshing. Control feels very fluid, not stiff at all. When you mess up you know it’s on you, not the controls. Well done, Namco.

Excuse me, coming through
Excuse me, coming through

This is easily one of the best four player games on the Super Nintendo. Thanks to its charming stages and details, there’s a lot of casual gamer appeal here, or even to the non-gamer. Anyone can pick it up and play. It’s simple and fun. It’s really a shame that this game doesn’t get talked about much. Even to this day I tend to see people recommending Super Tennis without giving this game a shout out. While Super Tennis deserves its props, I really think this is the superior game. If you haven’t tried it yet, and you love yourself a good vintage 16-bit sports game, then be sure to check out Super Family Tennis. I highly doubt you’ll regret it. In fact, the only thing you may regret is that you didn’t play it any sooner!

Full of frills, thrills and spills!
It’s full of frills, thrills and spills!

2 thoughts on “Super Family Tennis (SFC)”

  1. Great review. Is there any chance of adding a few notes on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the players available?

    1. Hey thanks for checking in and the compliment. Smash Tennis (AKA Super Family Tennis) is one of my personal favorites. There is definitely some subtle differences between the 20 selectable characters, but not having seen it specifically cited in some form of official document (i.e. a manual or magazine article), I don’t want to really get into the specifics of each character’s strengths and weaknesses. But if you know of them, feel free to post them here! I just know the characters have different pros and cons to some degree (to what degree I cannot speak on however) and that I love the game. I wish the game had each player’s stats visible on the screen in the game itself. Super Final Match Tennis on the Super Famicom did this beautifully, even though I find that game fairly disappointing. I think some sort of stat graphic is the one thing missing from Super Family Tennis.

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