Wii Sports was a revelation, on the same level as Super Mario 64 and its ilk. A five game compendium, some argue that Wii Sports single-handedly changed the face of the industry in less than a year. TV spots and in-store demonstrations all showed off the silly fun of wiimote waggling with friends. Though five games are included in Wii Sports, the tennis game was clearly the jewel in the crown. The Wii Sports version of tennis is a simple, competitive and utterly enjoyable round of tennis that captured this reviewer’s attention for the first time since Sega wooed and wowed me with Virtua Tennis back on the Dreamcast. So while the former has controls that would get even your grandma interested in gaming and the latter can boast being the best arcade iteration of the sport, where does that leave something like Smash Court Tennis 3?
The answer is neither black nor white; instead, Smash Court Tennis 3 lies in a murky middle ground, neither excelling in any particular area nor really doing that much wrong.
Smash Court Tennis 3 has everything one would expect from a tennis game: mountains of modes such as arcade, where you can face some of the sport’s biggest stars, traditional exhibition matches, and a pro tour mode, where you create your own player from a limited set of customization options and where you will spend most of your time. Hell, there are even tennis variants of Namco classics such as Pac-Man and Galaga. Tying things up nicely is a multiplayer mode for you and your fellow PSP-owning buddies.
By no means is Smash Court Tennis 3 hideous looking, either. Though it’s not up there with the PSP upper echelon of visual masterpieces, it at least won’t make you feel like you’ve had your retinas eviscerated. Again keeping with the themes of things thus far, everything is just OK, while not being great or awful, or standing out for any obvious positives or negatives. It’s just…OK.
So everything’s set: Loads of options? Check. Acceptable graphics? Check. Official license? Check. Let’s play ball…big fat red ‘X’.
Playing under the lights is something of a thrill.
Firstly, instead of controlling a healthy, athletic, speedy pro, Smash Court Tennis 3 makes you feel like you’re playing as a fallen tennis star, whose sell-by date has long since expired. But this is the issue when trying to recreate a simulation like tennis, or for that matter any type of genre in videogames. Some will argue ‘til the cows come home about how realism is best, but what about fun?
Though you can upgrade your abilities and skills via a role-playing-game-like system, until you’ve levelled up enough, you’ll find yourself having your arse handed to you for the first few hours.
Again underlining an ongoing issue with most PSP games, i.e. that they’re not suitable for short bursts of portable gaming, the pacing of Smash Court Tennis 3 is far too pedestrian, and it would have been preferable if proceedings were sped up a bit.
Away from the court in pro tour mode, you’ll be able to mess around with other ‘lifestyle’ options, such as signing new sponsorship deals, partaking in several different training events or entering tournaments depending on your ranking. All of it, really, is a welcome relief from the monotony of the actual tennis.
Go ahead, try and figure out what’s going on here.
Levelling up to play in higher ranking tournaments is done via winning matches in other tournaments or training sessions. The deal breaker is that training sessions never reward you with nearly as many experience points as tournaments do. So unless you want to enter a competition and be reminded of where your backside is, the only answer is to grind and grind through the nauseating training sessions, which, by the way, are not exciting in the slightest.
Herein lies the main issue with Smash Court Tennis 3: it seems painfully self-aware that it’s one of the few actual simulations available of the sport, and as such, it takes itself far too seriously. Without the motion-sensing madness of Wii Sports and its cutesy, family-friendly presentation, or the fast paced, edge-of-your-seat stuff that Virtua Tennis provides, Smash Court Tennis 3 has nothing left to fall back on.
The modes are aplenty, yet never really any fun, nor are they fair. The actual tennis isn’t unplayable, but it isn’t something to write home about either. In many regards, it’s like the lonely kid at the back of the classroom at school that nobody notices; he doesn’t stand out, he has no real unique qualities that we can identify with, nor is he great academically or at any sports. He’s just there, minding his own, while those around him just keep progressing in leaps and bounds. He’s destined to be just another face in your school album; or, as in Smash Court Tennis 3‘s case, just another tennis game that fails to shine in any meaningful way.