Publisher: NAMCO BANDAI Games America
Developer: NAMCO BANDAI Games America
# of Players: 1-16
N Amer - 07/10/2007
Smash Court Tennis 3 Review
Smash Court Tennis 3 is an anti-simulator. This new PSP-exclusive release looks realistic but offers a mixture of play styles that go in opposite directions.
Your first few matches will be met with the usual frustrations (like your inability to return the ball), along with a sense of amazement for the player movements. They are mostly fluid and realistic, so unless you happen to catch the game on an off moment within the beginning plays, you’re not likely to see it as being seriously flawed.
Pro Tour is the primary play mode, but before diving in you must check out the wonderful mini-games: Pac-Man Tennis, Galaga Tennis, and Bomb Tennis. Each represents a different style of tennis gameplay. Pac-Man Tennis challenges you to shoot the ball over the dot-covered court to collect points that are awarded to the first player that scores.
Galaga Tennis replaces the standard point system with two lives – score to make the Galaga Boss appear, who will use his retractor beam to pull tennis players off the court. As with the classic arcade shooter, Galaga Tennis allows you to retrieve your fallen man and play the game with two players side-by-side. It’s hilarious, to say the least.
Bomb Tennis trades in the two-inch yellow ball for something more explosive. The bomb grows more deadly with each swing, while every miss causes other bombs to be dropped on your side of the court. Hit one of the bombs and you’re toast. Three lives (shown as heart points) are all that are given, but you can make adjustments before the game begins.
To Serve, With Love
As a sports game and as a title that was made exclusively for a handheld system, Smash Court Tennis 3 needed to have a great single-player mode. All the ad hoc functions in the world can’t help when you’re alone at the bus stop or stuck on a plane (where wireless connections are not allowed).
Pro Tour is the mode created to satisfy your gaming craving during those situations. Start by creating a player (male or female) by selecting one of a handful of presets relating to face type, hair and skin color, clothing, shoes, and racket design. You’ll also get to determine your athlete’s play style, which affects stats like Power Play, Serve and Volley, and Ground Stroke. The next step involves a couple more menus, including your rival selection for the first year. Once that has been completed, the game takes you to the Pro Tour menu, a hub for all your destinations. New apparel may be purchased down the road, but ignore that and the other trivial options – it’s time to head for the competition schedule.
Up to four competitive options are available: train, sponsorship / partners (contract), and one or two competitions. You train to increase stat points, which can be applied to your character like a warrior leveling up in an action game. Sponsorship is necessary to enter certain competitions; partners are needed to participate in the doubles and mixed matches. Neither sponsors nor partners will sign on until you’ve proven yourself in a quick match.
The competitions vary in reward, location, court surface, and number of opponents. The schedule is separated by weeks, which there are 48 of in each year of the Pro Tour. Only one action may be taken each week. If you decide to train, that’s it – the week is gone. If there was a competition you wanted to enter at that time, it will be lost for the rest of the year.
Don’t forget to raise your stats.
The game is not clear about this fact, and as you’ll unfortunately learn, that’s not the only thing it’s tight-lipped about. Stamina is reduced every week that your player is active; it increases every week that you decide to skip. There is no mention of this in the Pro Tour mode, and after skimming through the manual (a chore I dread every time), it doesn’t appear to say anything about this either. It refers to stamina and talks about its existence, but it does not reveal how it can be obtained.
Smash Court Tennis 3 is a fast and exciting tennis game, so you shouldn’t be surprised that the Pro Tour mode is fun. However, without any significant side shows to keep players entertained, continued excitement and entertainment value is placed on the shoulders of repetitive game competitions. You know how they say that no two snowflakes are alike? These competitions would be the near opposite of that statement. Sure, there are slight differences. But I’m still whacking a ball back and forth – a thrill that can’t be contained in some games, but is squashed here by lackluster AI and inept teammates.
Mixed and doubles matches are all but a lost cause. You never know when you’re going to have to carry the game for your teammate. He or she may stand there and do nothing, and your opponents may be no better. Or they might play with near-perfect returns, hitting the ball as if it were second nature to them. There’s no rhyme or reason to the outcome. The reward doesn’t seem to have an effect on it either – some of the most rewarding competitions feature the dumbest opponents and vice versa.
In the teammate AI’s defense, they do move well in relation to your position on the court. If you run to the front of the net, they’ll generally move back. But that only helps when they’re willing to actually participate in the game and hit the ball, a function they struggle to perform.
The Pac-Man, Galaga and Bomb mini-games are great but they don’t offer any long-term value. No goals are provided – you play, you win, and that’s it. They aren’t incorporated into the Pro Tour, so you won’t see them appear as a challenge down the road. Multiplayer makes them worthwhile, but the joy is temporary – gamers can’t go through these motions, which have no diverting path, without getting tired.
Smash Court Tennis 3 is not a game for last-minute actions. It wants its players to be on top of their opponents, and it wants you to run or stay in the correct direction and take a shot before the ball is in your territory. I can assume now, after days of playing the game, that it does this to save time with a swing that couldn’t have hit the ball anyway. But I’m the kind of gamer that tries even when I know I can’t make it. Which is why I’m confused by the player lunging, which occurs at times when your player is far from the ball. If you react quickly, the game forgets not to swing. It ignores the fact that you are not within the ball’s reach and literally pushes your player toward the ball to make the shot.
This jerky motion is usually accompanied by an animation that at least partially explains what happened. However, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get a visual explanation, let alone believe what was just shown. I’m no tennis expert, but I know people can’t lunge forward like that, certainly not without bending their knees. The Man of Steel could, but he’s too busy starring in bad action games to be play a sport.
Review Scoring Details for Smash Court Tennis 3
The shot mechanics are a mixed bag, emphasizing the need for prediction and early action but not perfectionism. Players will have to study the swing, footwork, and positions of their opponents to stay on top of each move. It’s not that hard of a goal to accomplish – opponent analysis should be second nature after the first hour or two. But it can be a bit difficult in the early stages of the game. Swings are not guaranteed just because you pressed the X (slice shot), circle (topspin), or triangle (flat) button.
Rather, the shot will only be executed if the ball is hit in your player’s direction. If the ball is hit to my right side and I start to run left, the swing won’t go through. This isn’t a bad feature, per se, but it isn’t clear either.
Smooth animations and decent player models were not enough to save Smash Court Tennis 3 from falling victim to technical issues.
The dead silence is slightly less annoying than the vacuous sounds of Hot Shots Tennis.
Bad teammate AI does not lead to challenging gameplay – it leads to frustrations.
Cool mini-games, but they lack a significant goal. The Pro Tour mode is not a new concept and does nothing to expand the sport’s gameplay.
Game sharing makes it interesting, as do the mini-games. But only ad hoc play is allowed even if both players have their own UMD.
Smash Court Tennis 3 scores decent marks for its excitement level but loses points on gameplay responsiveness, problematic AI, and a troublesome presentation. The flaws and repetitive nature of the Pro Tour mode are hard to forgive. I enjoyed Smash Court Tennis 3 initially and am tempted to keep it in my travel bag just incase I get the urge to play a match or two while on the go. The fact that I’m still thinking about it after all this is pretty impressive – most flawed games don’t hold my interest for that long.
But if I do play it down the road, will the words of my review come rushing back? Will I regret that this is one of the games I chose to carry, taking up space that could’ve been devoted to a game with fewer technical issues and higher replay value?
Smash Court Tennis 3 scores decent marks for its excitement level but loses points on gameplay responsiveness, problematic AI, and a troublesome presentation
Reviewer: Louis Bedigian
Review Date: 07/24/2007