Reviewed: July 24, 2007
Released: July 10, 2007
Itís been quite some time since I played real tennis. I took lessons my freshman year, and even took a shot with the high school tennis team when I was a junior, but once out of school I was lucky to play once or twice a year. Iíd be hard pressed to even find my racket if you asked me at this moment.
Thankfully, video games allow me the convenience of playing a lot of my favorite pastimes from my younger years without having to find somebody to play with or even leave the house for that matter. Iíve always been a big fan of video tennis, especially Outlaw Tennis, Virtua Tennis, and of course, Top Spin.
Smash Court Tennis 3 has finally arrived on the PSP, offering a third tennis alternative for handheld gamers alongside Virtua Tennis and Top Spin. After coming off some recent tennis careers on the PS3 and 360 with Virtua Tennis 3, I have to say I was impressed with the console-quality that Smash Court was able to bring to the handheld system.
Perhaps it was the Namco name or perhaps it was the inclusion of mini-games like Pac-Man, Galaga, or Bomb Tennis, but when I first loaded up Smash Court Tennis 3 I was prepared for an arcade (non-serious) tennis game. Imagine my surprise to find, not only a very in-depth and totally serious tennis simulation, but one that is packed with all the features and extras you would expect from a AAA console title.
In many ways, Smash Court mirrors the layout and content of Virtua Tennis while delivering a solid gameplay experience not unlike Top Spin. And as for those mini-gamesÖwell they just turned out to be one of the more addicting elements of this title and they were unlocked from the very beginning, so if you do get stuck or bored with the main game, you always have a nice diversion to escape to.
Smash Court Tennis 3 offers all the expected modes including Exhibition, Arcade, Pro Tour, and a lengthy Tutorial. Obviously, the Pro Tour is the heart of this game, and you start by creating a player, choosing male, female, face and hairstyles, then outfitting them with various clothes and tennis gear. Later on you will unlock more gear in the Pro Shop.
There is a robust skills system where you earn XP by playing and defeating your opponents. As you level up you will earn Skill Points that you can spend between events to increase various attributes like power, serve, forehand, backhand, and footwork. You can also spend these points on numerous specialty shots and advanced abilities, allowing great freedom in creating your own unique tennis pro.
The Pro Tour is quite involved and presents you with a weekly schedule of events. These often include tournaments you might not quality for allowing you time to train using a variety of fun and challenging exercises. If youíve played Virtua Tennis or Top Spin you know exactly what Iím talking about. Youíll also want to sign sponsorship deals and recruit partners for doubles events.
If you follow tennis at all you will likely know most of the pro players they got for this game including; Roger Federer, Rafael Nader, Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova, and numerous others Ė 16 in all and each uniquely represented with their own distinct style of play and animations.
Adding even more life to this title are multiplayer modes for Ad Hoc versus matches as well as single-UMD mini-game challenges using GameShare. Pac-Man is great fun in that you have to collect the dots arranged in a maze pattern on each side of the net, while actually playing tennis. The other player is doing the same but only the person who wins the volley actually gets to keep the combined pool of dots. Galaga is much like the real game in that you try to hit ships on the other side of the net with your shots. You can even use that big ship to ďcaptureĒ a player. Bomb tennis turns your tennis ball into a ticking time bomb that youíll want to make sure is on the other side of the net when it goes off. And the player who loses the volley gets even more bombs dropped on their side of the court. Itís all great fun and extremely addictive and perfect for the handheld system.
Controls are intuitive and responsive for the most part. The game plays just like any other tennis game where you move the player then press the face button that corresponds to the shot you want to make Ė flat, top-spin, lob, etc. That locks your feet allowing you to aim your shot with the analog pad. The longer you pre-load the shot the greater the angle and power it will have. Youíll not only have to mix-up your shot types but also how close or how far you play from the net. Itís great fun and very rewarding when you can draw your opponent close to the net with a drop shot then lob one over his (or her) head to the rear of the court.
Unlike most tennis games where you work the other player by hitting to the extreme left then extreme right, Smash Court Tennis rewards you for rushing the net and forcing the other player to hit their return high allowing you to position yourself in the glowing target circle and smashing an un-returnable volley back in their face. Itís very rewarding and not that hard to pull off, and it will earn you a nice replay of the smash.
There are a few issues with the gameplay. First, the characters are slow, even with my +5 dash tennis shoes; I canít seem to dance around the court like in my other tennis games. This leads to the related visual problem of me actually hitting a ball that is about 4-6 feet from the tip of my racket. In my mind Iím sure I just missed that shot, yet I hear the twang of the strings and see the ball fly back to the other side even though I was nowhere near the ball. Itís not a serious or frequent glitch Ė itís probably happened 4-5 times in about 15 hours of gameplay, and it only happens to me, so the computer is getting any benefits from this error.
One thing I did enjoy was the ability to challenge shots. You can only do this four times per match, but the line judges do make mistakes, and if you call them on it when they do it can make a difference. And since the ball always leaves a chalky impression of where it last hit, it makes it easy to know when the judges made a bad call.
Visually, Smash Court Tennis 3 is extremely easy on the eyes with colorful courts, detailed backgrounds, smooth animations, and TV-style presentation and pre and post-game close-ups. They even have slow-motion replays of exceptional shots. Some of the events, like the rooftop match in Tokyo will blow you away with its amazing helicopter fly-overs.
Itís obviously Witness Protection Day during these tennis events. Even though the grandstands and signage are all crystal clear, the crowds are all digitally blurred out Ė not that this element of the game is remotely important. From a court perspective, this game is nearly identical to Top Spin or Virtual Tennis in background quality and detail, and you can play from a low or high angle view of the court.
I would have enjoyed a bit more freedom during the character creation process. No matter what combination you choose you always seem to end up with an effeminate anime character from a role-playing game. The facial hair has no texture so it always looks like somebody pasted a bad theatrical mustache or beard on their face. I tried to create the most macho guy I could and he still looks like a lost member from a 90ís boy band.
Even worse, when you are playing random (non-pro) opponents, the game randomizes all of these elements to create the other player, so you will get a male player with a blue beard and a gold (female) ponytail. It can really turn into a freak show, and it would be funny if it werenít so sad that they didnít take the time to put some effort into random character generation. But again, this hardly impacts the gameplay and you seldom see the other player up close other than the intro movie. On a positive note - the Pro players all look amazingly like their real-life counterparts.
There is limited music in Smash Court, mostly for the opening and closing, which both have ESPN-like themes, although the victory tune seems more like something they play when royalty is being crowned. Itís great for a quick ego boost. Then you have the same 10-20 seconds guitar-techo-rock clip they play during the replays of your smash shots.
The rest of the sound package is the squeak of shoes and the sound of the ball hitting the various court surfaces along with the robotic announcer who delivers the score after each volley. Some of the players make their own sounds, and as much as Maria Sharapova is nice to look at, her squeal-like grunts during her backhand shots are ever so annoying.
The career (pro tour) mode is extremely deep and lengthy and should take most gamers the better part of a month to complete with casual gameplay. The other modes are nicely suited for quick pick-up-and-play diversions, especially the totally addicting mini-games that are just as much fun alone as they are when playing with a friend over Wi-Fi. I suppose I would be greedy if I asked for four-player support so I could play doubles via Wi-Fi.
Smash Court Tennis 3 helps to fill a much-needed gap in the PSP library, although I have a hunch that Sonyís recently released Hot Shots Tennis on the PS2 will be sneaking onto the PSP soon enough, but that will be more about fun than simulation.
With the exception of being easier to find in the store, Smash Court Tennis 3 is on pretty equal footing with its competition. It doesnít offer or do anything the other PSP tennis games have or do it any better, but it does have those cool mini-game and some really solid gameplay. If you have any love for the sport of tennis and own a PSP then Smash Court Tennis 3 is a great game to add to your library.