Alright, kids. Go ahead and laugh, but "International 3D Tennis" on the Commodore 64 was the closest thing to playing the real deal for a very long time. I wore this game out as a shortie, and even though it looks like the players are made out of coathangers, what the game lacked in realistic graphics and sound, it more than made up for in playability.
Lesser tennis games were usually far too interested in making the game look nice, and the chunky graphics often detracted from what was the really important question to ask of a sports simulation game... how much is it like playing the actual sport? Whilst I'll concede that in my real life tennis-playing days, I never entered into a thrilling rally with a pipecleaner-thin, triangular-headed bloke, and the applause of any members of the public who turned up to watch didn't sound much like a sea breeze, but the ball physics and realistic speed of the players in I3DT were unmatched.... until now.
Behold! EA Sports' ('s in the gaaaame) Grand Slam Tennis on the Nintendo Wii. It's only taken nineteen years for a tennis game to more realistically simulate the sport, and it's thanks in no small part to the Wii's "Motion Plus" dongle. Hee hee... I said 'dongle'. M+ provides the player with an almost inch-for-inch recreation of movement inside the game. And in an armflapping-heavy sport like tennis, you have no idea how important that is. Swipe your arm low and up, the ball lobs over the net. Hammer it left, and you're sending Venus Williams belting across the court to try and return your shot. It's uncanny, and an astonishing achievement for a video game.
What does it lack? Well, there's no guidance when it comes to training (I'm kicking ass, but I could still really use some help with service), they've missed out some of the lesser-known greats like Ivan Lendl and Henri Leconte in the available players in favour of the usual suspects, and Pat Cash's woefully small repertoire of commentary gets worn out by the third match, but my guess would be that the average video game snobs' biggest issue would be that GST suffers, somewhat, from similar initial superficialities that made I3DT such a figure of fun back in the day; The players aren't realistic enough and the sound's a bit ropey at times. But, like I3DT (which is now old enough to drive, join the military, vote, and, in countries with more enlightened laws, get drunk), it's the gameplay that makes it so unmissable. What happens on your arm, happens in the game. (If only that were the case with "Sam Fox Strip Poker" - eh, lads?) Sure, games like "Virtua Tennis" on the PS3 look more realistic, but playing with a paddle means it's still a game. Mashing buttons to return and aim a serve makes it a game. Physically aiming your shot and making sure you've swiped with enough power to hit a target, and you're very nearly playing a sport.
Of course, what makes the game totally unrealistic is the fact that I've already bagged the Australian and French opens, and am past the first round of Wimbledon. I might even be the first Scotsman since Angus Podgorny to reach the final.