Its been a long time coming for the latest Smash Court game in my eyes, since it has been over 3 years since Smash Court Tennis 2 that appeared on the PS2. Yet it is unsurprising that Bandai Namco have used this years Wimbledon to release the third in its illustrious series. However only being exclusive to PSP, has the series shot itself in the foot both sales wise and playability? With this I mean it is stated that only 60% of PS2 users own a PSP and an extra 10% who do not ultimately resulting in its competitors namely the Virtua Tennis series gaining more recognition for being compatible across the network of current consoles and lets face it the PSP has a much lower engine than the PS2, PS3 and X-Box 360, resulting in less attention to detail.
Graphically however, Smash Court Tennis 3 fairs well for a PSP title. Stadiums are presented quite elaborately with attention to detail in the structure of each building housing the stadium seats and with the inclusion of trees, sunset views, obvious brand advertising and stadium lights a favourable atmosphere is created for the player. As with many games recently no official license has been given so courts only resemble real life places, but obvious details have been crafted to give the impression that for example you are really playing on the sunny (cough) Wimbledon grass courts.
Courts themselves vary in colour and style meaning no Clay court looks the same giving an individual personality as it were to each court. Shadows are also greatly used among some courts allowing you or your opponent to be covered in darkness at times due to the light or lack of it. This is a real nice touch especially for a handheld game.
Each player actually resembles their real life counterpart as well which again suits well for a handheld game. Shown in close-ups and cut scenes each player dresses in their own unique attire as well facial recognition. Emotions are used also to intensify the player likeness especially when a player wins a point; smiles brighten up the players bringing out the other features on their faces such as eyes and teeth.
Even your created player can look quite lifelike when given the chance. As some may notice from my Lindsay Davenport review im quite a fan, so I made her up in World Tour mode, and once unlocking certain attires and hair styles its was quite an uncanny resemblance, though not entirely correct. This really pushes the game onwards in my eyes as it really gives you a connection with the player you have made.
However there are limitations that at times let the game down. When actually playing the game apart from the cutscenes, your player as well as the details on court, seats, umpires and banners etc all look quite fuzzy with a jagged appearance and though it is to be expected from a PSP game, its not really attractive to look at.
Also on World Tour Mode you will pit your wits against 249 other players, the majority of those not being real and made up by Namco but some of them all look rather comical with huge wigs and multicoloured styles like green and blue. Although this isnt much of a graphical let down it is rather silly and rather takes the seriousness away from the game.
Animation on the whole is fairly good with a well designed structure allowing players to crouch down for low balls and really use their well gained skills on the ball, ultimately allowing your character to hit big winners or use unseen drop shots. As your player goes for those winners their legs get into position and their free arm is raised in the air just like in real life and the motion is carried out quite nicely. I know it is rather expected nowadays for the players to look and play exactly right but to be honest I was still surprised by the detail this handheld game goes into in terms of animation because it really has a sense of energy and personality to the characters as they jump around when they have won the point or simply watching them point towards their towel in a small cut scene in between points. A high attention to detail has been put in to making the game feel just like playing in reality.
An also nice touch is the replays seen when a nice shot or ace is played because the camera zooms out a little to allow you to see the shot being performed and so that you can actually see the ball, unlike those ridiculous replays on TV that lets the ball go to fast for the camera to follow. This isnt an essential part to the game but it is refreshing to say the least.
However I must say I was really disappointed and saddened by a continuous glitch in the game that randomly happens every so often. For example when hitting the ball into the opposite corner of your opponent, sometimes your opponent will start to run to ball then glitch up, flash and then appear right where the ball is. This is extremely frustrating, irritating and a huge let down to game that plays out quite well. It really does affect the game in terms of fluidity as it brings a rough edge to a smoothly designed game and it makes you wonder why this detail was overlooked allowing for extras in the game that are not really needed.
Whereas the Virtua Tennis series relies on its pick up and go simple controls and arcade feel, Smash Court Tennis plays out a little slower which for some my seem more difficult, but in my eyes is extremely well thought out and adds a more level of depth to the game. Very much like the others in the series, Smash Court Tennis 3 allows certain shots to be played with certain buttons on the PSP, O for Topspin and X for Slice etc but an extra one is added for Square. That being a Flat shot, something that is missed out in Virtua Tennis. This really does add a level of extra depth to the game because although it is only an extra button press, it really lets you think about the points you are constructing and then using the flat shot to go for those well orchestrated winners.
The game also is designed for both beginners and more advanced players meaning that anyone can simply pick up the game and play. Beginners will appreciate the ease and flexibility the game offers whereas more advanced gamers will relish the extra shots available as well as the use of directions to add extra angles or perfected serves.
Which brings me on to a bad point that the game really faults on. I dont know about other PSP users but I really dislike the analogue control, having a small round circle on the console really doesnt allow you to have an accurate control over what you are playing and Smash Court Tennis 3 is no different. It would be so much easier for the game to be controlled by the D-Pad or simple allow you to change it to this in the options menu.
The problem is that the sensitivity that the little button has is too much meaning the slight direction change moves your player in the wrong way so you miss your chances or simple miss easy balls. The problem really isnt in moving from side to side as it were, but more in controlling the direction of your hit meaning creating angles or applying length on to your ball is much more difficult that it should be.
The Game itself though does add two new features that have never been used in a Tennis game before. The first is the newly added addition of Challenges. For instance if you hit a ball and it is called OUT but you think it was clearly IN then you can challenge the call by using Hawkeye which uses technology to determine if you were right or not.
The feature works in all kinds of ways meaning if you hit a ball long or whether you opponent hits a ball in but you thought it was out or simply having a serve called fault. This extra feature is a brilliant addition to the game as it really goes further than your average normal Tennis Sim. It also adds an extra tension to the game meaning you really do shout at the screen THAT WAS IN!! and just like in real life, linesmen and Umpires really do get it wrong as you can actually prove your ball was in or your opponents ball was out etc. This also gives the linesmen and NPCs a sense of individuality.
There are quite a nice range of Pros available in the game and not just your expected ones either and with an equal amount of Male and Female characters it really does stop any bias that the Tennis world is trying desperately to dismiss.
## Male Players ##
**Roger Federer** - An All Round player currently Number 1 in the rankings and Number 2 in the ATP Race.
**David Nalbandian** - An All Round player currently Number 25 in the rankings and Number 30 in the ATP Race.
**Gael Monfils** - A Fast Youthful Baseliner currently Number 73 in the rankings and Number 50 in the ATP Race.
**Rafael Nadal** - A Defensive Baseliner currently Number 2 in the rankings and Number 1 in the ATP Race.
**Feliciano Lopez** - A Defensive Serve and Volleyer currently Number 78 in the rankings and Number 68 in the ATP Race.
**Tomas Berdych** - A Huge Server currently Number 11 in the rankings and Number 16 in the ATP Race.
**Andreas Seppi** - An Up and Coming Attacking Baseliner currently Number 112 in the rankings and Number 78 in the ATP Race.
**James Blake** - A Hard Hitting Player currently Number 9 in the rankings and Number 21 in the ATP Race.
## Female Players ##
**Amelie Mauresmo** - A Volleying All Rounder currently Number 4 in the Rankings and Number 10 in the WTA Race.
**Michaella Krajicek** - An Average Baseliner currently Number 45 in the Rankings and Number 38 in the WTA Race.
**Martina Hingis** - A Tactical All Rounder currently Number 11 in the Rankings and Number 14 in the WTA Race.
**Justine Henin** - A Powerful Groundstroke Player currently Number 1 in the Rankings and Number 2 in the WTA Race.
**Maria Sharapova** - A Hard Hitting Baseliner currently Number 2 in the Rankings and Number 6 in the WTA Race.
**Nicole Vaidisova** - A Hard Hitting Baseliner currently Number 10 in the Rankings and Number 11 in the WTA Race.
**Ana Ivanovic** - A Big Serving Baseliner currently Number 6 in the Rankings and Number 3 in the WTA Race.
**Sania Mirza** - A Tier 3 champion currently Number 44 in the Rankings and Number 52 in the WTA Race.
As you can see by the wide range of players available to choose from, playing Smash Court Tennis 3 has never been so widely available to all styles of play whether you like to use big serves and hard hitting baseliners or simple tactical players who mix up topspins with drop shots.
Despite the player variety, the frustrating thing with only having 16 players is that you have little choice in terms of who to pick in comparison to the real ATP and WTA Tour with over 2000 players. Obviously this would be a little unrealistic having 2000 players to choose from but in terms of talent there are many players missed out in the game and as Tom1Clare once pointed out to me, why is that Tennis Games have to suffer from a simple choice of 16 compared to the hundreds that Football games have? And he is completely justified in saying so and I am obliged to agree.
However I must say there are another 233 players to play against in World Tour Mode which means you will never play the same person twice very often, which is a nice uplifting touch compared to the limited Virtua Tennis 3 and just like the Pros in SCT 3, the NPCs all have their own variety in skills and style meaning one match you could be playing against the number 50th in the world who uses high topspin shots to get you moving before unleashing a series of flat winners and then the next match you could be against the number 112th in the world who is slower but more agile at the net tucking in nice angled volleys.
As a result this really adds a pick n mix into the bag meaning you will have a different match each time you play having to change your playing style to overcome each differing player.
As with every tennis game now, Smash Court Tennis 3 follows on from its predecessors and has a basic calendar system for the basis of its World Tour allowing you to pick and choose which tournaments to enter in what week or month, which is quite handy really because of the addition of a stamina bar, you need to rest quite frequently otherwise your player will become injured and unable to play.
There are a nice amount of tournaments to enter, meaning you climb up the rankings at a steady pace compared to rushing up there, with four different types of tournament, each one more harder than the previous. Ultimately the harder the tournament the higher the ranks of your opponent and more prize money will await you for spending in the shop. Also a certain rank is required before you can enter certain tournaments which again stops you from becoming number 1 in two weeks.
Which brings me on to the next new feature Wildcards. Just like in real life, Smash Court Tennis 3 will award you with a wildcard entry into higher tournaments if they think you have played well in previous tournaments or if you have played well enough for your country. In relation to the whole of the game this is quite insignificant but a brilliant addition meaning that games are now starting to follow on with Tennis Times if it were. Its also a nice feeling for the player as well to be awarded a Wildcard to a higher event meaning your skills at playing are somewhat appreciated.
The disappointing thing about World Tour Mode however is that once you have built up your skills as a player, you become to hard to play against, meaning players you found difficult before now seem easy to defeat and although at first this is quite an achievement as you cheer on in yours beaten opponents face, after a while the whole winning thing becomes repetitive and quite frankly boring. There is no challenge left and each match become tiresome and more like a chore. An Auto Match feature is available in each tournament, but this seems pointless skipping matches on a whim to see whether or not you win or lose.
I suppose thats the problem with all Tennis Games that the further you progress the easier it becomes resulting in a repetitive and rhythmical mood. In Smash Court Tennis 3 however it is not the A.I that is lacking but actually the development of it meaning as you upgrade and become a better player, your opponents do not.
Another pointless thing is the inclusion of a rival player. This simply because you dont actually have any Cut Scenes or messages from them they just sit there at the side of the menu showing their current rank compared to yours, though beating them may give you satisfaction it all becomes rather pointless in the end.
Despite the repetitive tone, Namco do try and eradicate it. Similar to the Perfect Ace series, Smash Court Tennis 3 allows you to either concentrate you player as a singles or doubles player meaning each time you play a tournament a choice for singles, doubles or mixed doubles comes up. Even though this is a nice and refreshing touch, its also a let down in terms of how you progress in the game. You simply cannot concentrate on becoming number 1 in the world in both singles and doubles and you cant enter the tournament in both categories either which ultimately is a shame.
As per expected, SCT 3 offers a range of modes other than World Tour to allow for quicker games or simply a quick filling taste whilst your on the bus home. Exhibition allows for one game of you choosing whereas Arcade is a little more serious playing your way through an increasing of difficulty tournament against all the top pros.
Ad Hoc mode is SCT 3s version of Online mode allowing anyone with a wireless home connection to join rooms or host matches against anyone in the world. This really is a step forward especially in terms of PSP games and it really allows for a new sense of challenge as you play against real live opponents meaning their tactics and play style can change at any one moment.
Challenge mode is a little pathetic however I must say giving you a choice of three mini games, Pac Man tennis where you must play a regular game of Pac Man, but your background is a tennis court. Galaga tennis where you must blast the ball at your alien invaders and then theres bomb tennis an unoriginal standard game now for all Tennis Sims.
At best these challenge games are for the more unserious of Tennis Gamers and although they are somewhat new they are boring, silly and ultimately a waste of available space that could have been used on touching up the other faults this game has.
Sound wise, SCT 3 fairs again quite well allowing not only for the usual groans of ball hitting, but for funky beats and tunes to be played during each match. Its actually quite pleasant to hear the crisp clear sounds from the PSP and the Umpires voice can be quite enthusiastic at times when calling the players onto court.
Overall However I must say that even though Smash Court Tennis 3 goes further in terms of playability than some other Tennis games, its major fault also lets the game down in terms of fluidity. The analogue control is really annoying and will leave you heading for the off switch on many of occasions. The online feature is a nice touch and to be honest for a PSP game it fairs well enough to be played for at least a month, but the repetitiveness with ease its way in soon enough. I do actually recommend this game to all Tennis fans as it takes on new elements that i'm sure Tennis Gamers will enjoy and beginners to love to play this also, but though enjoyable for a while, it disappoints there soon after.
** Information **
Players 1 - 2
960 KB minimum memory needed
** Other Games in the Smash Court Series **
Smash Court Tennis (PS2)
Smash Court Tennis 2 (PS2)
Roland Garros powered by the Smash Court Engine (PS2)
** If You Like This You May Like **
Virtua Tennis World Tour (PSP)
Virtua Tennis 3 (PSP)
** Price **
(as of 9/07/07)
*I have mentioned DOOYOO user TOM1CLARE in my review his address is: http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/member/tom1clare/
Smash Court Tennis 3 arms players with twice as many customizable items than its predecessor including racquets, sportswear and more as they compete to be #1 in the world. Perfect a devastating array of strokes from a selection of top ranked and promising professional tennis stars, each of whom are modelled after their real-life counterparts. Own the court by developing and acquiring new skills such as increasing your hit speed or serve accuracy. Mental elements also play into how characters act and look, so stay focused on your game! Test your skills in various gameplay modes including Arcade, Exhibition, and Pro Tour Mode. Want a quick hiatus from the circuit? Try one of the imaginative and addicting mini games.