|System: PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Namco||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Namco||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: July 10, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Cole Smith
If you read my reviews on a regular basis, and if not you should, you will know that when it comes to any tennis game, I will always make some kind of reference to Pong. After all, tennis is just a glorified game of Pong. You bat a ball back and forth across the video screen. Whether you do it in two or three dimensions the premise remains the same, although it can be much more interesting in three dimensions. Smash Court Tennis 3 is in 3D, and it's fairly interesting, but it's more of a thinking man's tennis game.
Smash Court Tennis enjoys the distinction of being the first Smash Court Tennis game for the PSP. It mixes simulation with arcade modes to give you the best of both worlds. There are exhibition, career, and multiplayer modes along with some fun, tennis mini-games that tip the hat to arcade classics such as Galaga and Pac-Man. The gameplay in the career mode is relaxed, although some may find it slow when compared to other tennis games such as Virtua Tennis. The pace is meant to simulate the intensity of real matches which include a huge helping of strategy.
Starting with the Pro Tour mode, you will customize your character and work him or her up the ranks. It's slow going at first, and you'll feel it in the controls. While you're ranked at the bottom, your character will move about the court as nimbly as an arthritic Frankenstein monster. You opponent can move about like a helium-filled fairy, while you clomp about like your feet are encased in concrete. Things lighten up a little as you increase your skills. Accuracy and hitting power are a few of the skills that you'll be able to upgrade as you win matches. Eventually, your character will loosen up. After three to four hours of play, the percentage of action increases slightly but not significantly. The gameplay is always methodical. Not to say that it's not fun or challenging, it's all that and more, but you have to keep in mind that this is a professional simulation. If you want arcade style action, it's all here too. It's just a few button presses away.
The title is kind of misleading. There really isn't a lot of smashing taking place, although smashing a ball near the net virtually guarantees a point. Don't even think about smashing from the baseline. The gameplay just isn't set up for that. However unlikely it is in real life to play close to the net, that is your best strategy in this game. You can move around the court rather quickly, and once your skills are increased you'll find that your reach is improved as well as your accuracy on returning that ball to that open spot in your opponent's court.
Customizing options for your tennis pro are somewhat limited. Most of it is just cosmetic anyway so don't place too much emphasis on your wardrobe or hairstyle. The surest way to upgrade your character is by competing in tournaments. You can only enter tournaments in which you are ranked to play. This keeps you from getting your butt handed to you from superior players such as Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal, both of whom you can play against in Exhibition matches. After each tourney you'll receive points which you can use to upgrade your player's skills. As these points make you a better player, you'll increase your ranking and open the doors to new tournaments.
Another way of earning points while practicing your skills at the same time is in the training tutorial mode. Here can you work on your serves, returns, backhand, and smashes. Although you don't get as many points as you do from winning a tournament, this mode is great for sharpening up your skills. Sometimes it's not the character that needs to be improved, it's the person working the controller.
Competing against another player with the ad-hoc wireless system ensures that you'll have a little more control over the pace of the game. I didn't notice a single flaw in terms of slowdown or lag. The players controlled as well as they did in the single-player modes, and even though my opponent was a novice, (although it would be so much easier to say that I was just better) the game felt more organic. The CPU doesn't make many mistakes in the single-player modes. Although the pace may be slower, the CPU-controlled players don't give you much quarter. So it was refreshing to play against an opponent that would actually miss once in a while.
Smash Court Tennis is not the greatest looking PSP game, and I can't even say that it has much charm. It's decent at best and purely functional. It's a step or two above a budget title in terms of graphics, especially the aliasing of the players and the arenas. The animations are considerably better and hint at just how good this game could have been from a production standpoint. The camera angles are just as good as a TV broadcast. Menus are easy to read, facilitating modes quickly and painlessly. There are some decent tunes, but they do repeat. Generally, the gameplay is quiet. All you'll hear is the hollow sound of the ball as it rebounds off the court and the occasional polite outburst from the decidedly sedate crowd.
Don't get this game for the variety of modes. Get it for the simulation. If you're a big fan of Virtua Tennis, you may not appreciate the slower pace. The arcade modes are little more than a diversion, albeit a welcome one. This is a game for serious sports fans so give it some respect and play it under its own terms to get the most enjoyment out of it. Otherwise you might just want to haul Pong out of your Granddad's closest.
CCC Senior Writer