Namco’s Smash Court Tennis series has been around for some time, and although having a different title in other regions and at one point being called Anna Kournikova’s Tennis. The series has been a smash hit for Namco, especially as it’s cemented itself as an accessible series for beginners and a suitable challenge for vets. Well it’s 2008 and Namco has released Smash Court Tennis 3 to offer fans another slice of the action, however with Top Spin 3 and Sega Superstars Tennis already available on Xbox 360, is there really room for another game based on the same sport?
Smash Court Tennis 3, follows the tried and trusted formula of presenting various game modes once you get past the introductory loading screens. You’ll be able to choose from Arcade, Training, Xbox Live, Exhibition and the all encompassing Pro Tour mode. These are the sorts of modes you’d expect from a sports game and basically offer you the chance to get stuck into the game from the off, or spend a little more time getting to grips with the game mechanics. The Pro Tour mode is perhaps the meatiest of them, and allows you to create a male or female character to tackle the trials and tribulations of international pro tennis. Naturally I opted to create a very nice looking slim and busty character seeing as I was about spend hours looking at her butt. Well that’s my excuse and preference, but for male and female gamers, there are enough options to tweak your created character to suit your own tastes.
Once character creation is out of the way as per usual you start at the bottom of the pile (ranked 250/250) and have to work your way up to the top. This isn’t a quick process and means that you’ll have to enter loads of tournaments to increase your standing. You’re given a schedule of events for the year and it’s up to you to decide which events you’re going to participate in. There’s also some other options to mess around with as well outside of playing in tournaments, such as charity events to boost your popularity, sponsorship events to get you better gear, and an additional activity where you can train to boost skills, or hunt for a partner so you can unleash your skills in the doubles and mixed doubles events.
There are actually loads of events (a max of four per month) and some have large brackets, meaning you could play several qualifying matches before even getting to the final rounds. Luckily, you’re able to do two things that help out, and one of them is set the match duration for each and every match prior to it starting. This is actually a very welcome feature and means you can set matches to 2 game set, or go the whole hog. The other option is being able to auto play matches where the CPU simulates the match based on your players rank. If you rank higher than your opponent then more often than not you’ll win.
Upon starting with a new character, your skills are pretty low and the only way you’re really going to get anywhere is by playing matches and gradually earning enough experience to boost up skills. This is quite a neat inclusion and something that does require patience. My character was losing often from the offset, but once I started building up skills through perseverance she ended up being an unbeatable powerhouse, to the point where she wouldn’t lose a match, ever. This was something I noticed early on, and it raises questions as to the long term appeal of the game. Once the players’ skill is sufficient and you have a firm grasp of the game mechanics, the game becomes too easy, and with no further challenge left other than online play, the game sinks a little. Even the Arcade Legend difficulty was a breeze for my custom character. In short, the only real way of increasing the longevity of the game outside of Xbox Live is once you reach the top, create a new character and start all over again.
Well enough about modes, what about the actual tennis itself? The game is pretty fluid and is actually very well balanced. You’ve got a range of shot types you can perform which are dependant on timing and positioning. This means holding down or tapping a button will yield differing results. It’s certainly a very easy method of control and means that with little practice, you’ll be able to pull of some sweet shots in no time. Tennis is tennis, and therefore without adding in things like over the top special moves, the basic game of hitting a ball over a net is captured well enough.
Smash Court Tennis 3 does have two rather unique qualities within the basic game and they are interesting at that. Basically you’ll be presented with a number of dodgy calls for “Out” or not when it should be, and when I say dodgy, I really mean it. It’s as if the linesman and umpires are daydreaming. Both players have the option to challenge the ruling or contest a shot that appears to be out. You get a limited number of these per match and if you play a longer set game these can really make the difference between winning and losing. What happens is a replay will show and determine whether the ruling was correct or not, if not then the decision is rectified. Although highly unrealistic, it’s a great feature to have in the game.
The other feature allows you to react to your shots in an attempt to boost you or better yet lower the morale of your opponent. You’ll be able to taunt them to shake their game up a little or be rather saddened if you make a silly mistake. Again, it’s a welcome feature to add to the game and adds that little extra interactive layer to proceedings.
Graphically, Smash Court Tennis 3 looks slick and with some decent locales to duke it out on, there’s enough variation within the grassy courts of Oxford, to a court on top of a skyscraper in Dubai. Your travels will take you all over the world to experience the delights or hard and grassy court surfaces. The rendition of the court and all of its trimmings is especially life like and you’ll notice neat touches such as ball boys, umpires and linesmen all doing their job, or not as the case may be.
The graphics and general fluidity of play is pretty much as you would expect, but what really throws you off your game are the AI opponents. Some look like they are rejects from the Adams Family and are pretty poorly rendered compared to your own custom character. The models based on the real tennis players are actually pretty decent, it’s just a shame that the extras are more horrific than anything.
There’s some snazzy menu music and the in game sounds are as you would expect. In fact, the atmosphere is very good and when the crowd sounds like they are supporting you, it certainly adds to the immersion value. The game even realistically includes various grunting sounds from players which although some of you might not like (remembering the famous Monica Seles grunting) it is part and parcel of the competitive nature of the sport.
Smash Court Tennis 3 should offer tennis fans plenty of hours entertainment, however as mentioned, once you level up your character, the challenge diminishes greatly unless you’re prepared to start over with a new character. After this, what’s left is online play against the rest of the world, which isn’t loads due to the nature of the game, and local play versus family and friends.
I’ve enjoyed Smash Court Tennis 3 because the set up is actually very engaging in all areas; the building up of character skills, the huge number of events to take part in, and the options for participation. The game is certainly very accessible from the offset, although as mentioned the Pro Tour mode takes a while before you can start boasting about your l337 playing skills. If you like tennis games, then this is certainly well worth checking out, although it doesn’t offer too much variation from similar games based on the sport.