July 7, 2002
Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament - Review
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It's a ermmm.. tennis match.
Looking at the popularity of many worldwide sports you would think that several companies would be releasing tennis games on a regular basis. There are yearly updates from several companies for sports such as NFL (American Football), NHL (Ice Hockey), and NBA (Basketball), but try and name more then one tennis game. Video games started with the most basic tennis styled game ever in Pong, but very few companies have tried to make good tennis games recently. A couple of years ago Sega released a little game on the Naomi arcade chipset called Virtua Tennis which was an instant hit. The port to the Dreamcast was arcade perfect, and it remains one of the best games released during the consoles all too brief life. Fortunately a sequel is in the works, but it's still a long way off. Namco have also jumped on the tennis bandwagon and released this game, Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament, and it should keep you happy for some time.

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The game also includes challenges.
While previous Smash Court titles have used more anime styled characters, Namco have now replaced them with realistic models of the tennis stars, and what a list it is. The initial group of men to select from include Australia's own Patrick Rafter, Andre Agassi, Yevgeni Kafelnikov, and Pete Sampras. On the women's side you can select from Monica Seles, Lindsey Davenport, Martina Hingis and the extremely talented Anna Kournikova (well maybe not so much for the talent). It's also possible to unlock other players as you progress through the game. Each of the tennis matches take place in the four Grand Slam locations including Wimbledon, Australian Open, US Open and the French Open.

As for the gameplay, well it's still half way between arcade and simulation, but it certainly is fun. Namco have clearly moved the game as close to the highly praised Virtua Tennis from Sega which, given the long wait for the PS2 sequel is no bad thing. Smash Court includes all the tennis strokes you'll ever need from power shots, overhead smashes, lobs and drop shots, but it will take some time to master them all perfectly. Smash Court is comprised of several game modes including Arcade, Exhibition, Tournament and Training. It's definitely worth spending a little time in the Training mode, especially if you've never owned a tennis game, to learn the different strokes before you hit the Tournaments proper.

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Some of the unlockable extras.
Playing Smash Court is very enjoyable. The ball reacts exactly as you would expect it to, be it a smash, lob, drop shot or volley. The players run around the court very convincingly, although it would have been nice to see them slide around a little more on the clay and grass surfaces. One of the great things however is that these different surfaces do make the ball react differently. The clay surface will not see the ball bounce very high at all, while the hard courts of the US and Australian Opens will see the ball bounce a little higher and further allowing you to stay back a little more. Perhaps the most impressive thing gameplay wise is the terrific 4-player games with the use of a multi-tap. This is tremendous fun as there is no more CPU AI to deal with (more on that later) and, as always, it's a lot more fun beating a mate over a tough 5 set match.

There are some small niggles with the game however. In the Pro Tournament mode the first 2 games are so easy you can do it with your eyes closed. As soon as you hit the third round, where you meet the other real world players the difficulty just skyrockets and you'll need some major improvements to beat the CPU controlled players. The CPU controlled players seem to have some magic AI that never falters. If you're on one side of the court, they'll hit it to the other. This can be overcome easily by not moving until the ball has been hit as you know where it will be headed next. Also slightly annoying is that the ball is almost never hit out of the court. I think in about 20 tennis matches it only went out once or twice. I can understand why as this may make the game a little frustrating if it was continually hit out.

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The French court is clay, of course.
As with most Namco games Smash Court also includes a tonne of unlockable extras. But completing the matches in tournaments and extra challenges you earn points which then allow you to "buy" these extras. These extras include items like player manuals, new background music, new camera angles, new game options such as ball effects, new costumes, player photos and much more. This is a terrific addition to the game that will have you coming back time and time again to earn enough points to buy the next items.

Graphically, Smash Court is a little on the mixed side. The opening CG is quite concerning with some rather low detailed movies, but you'll only look at it once, if that. When it comes to the in-game graphics Namco have provided a smooth enough engine with no slowdown at all. From a distance the players look quite impressive and are certainly animated well. Unfortunately when you get up close to them they don't look as accurate as you'd expect, possibly not even up to the standard set by Sega's Virtua Tennis on Dreamcast.

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Looks like a winner to me.
Sound wise Smash Court Tennis is pretty good overall. The music is a little on the average side, but you can unlock tracks from several other games including Time Crisis and Seven as well as many original tracks. Most of the time however, you will probably prefer to just have the sound effects, which are adequate. There's not really too much that you can do wrong with the sound in the game, and indeed everything is as you would expect.

Overall Smash Court Tennis is a neat title. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the game although it just required a little more tweaking to make it more balanced. Going from dead easy to rock hard within one round of a tournament is a shock, or even having some of the unknown players advance occasionally would be great. When it comes to the multi-player mode however this game will have you hooked for days. It's tremendous fun. This is one game that tennis, or indeed all sports game fans, should try.

GRAPHICSThe CG is disappointing, but the in-game graphics are quite solid.
SOUNDPlenty of unlockable music, quiet during games beside umpire scores.
GAMEPLAYIt starts out easy, but then jumps in difficulty. AI can be easily fooled.
VALUEOver 40 items to unlock from new players to music, you'll want it all.
OVERALLSmash Court Tennis is a great tennis game for sports games fans. With 4 players this game will have you going for hours on end. Solid graphics and sound back up what is a very playable title, even with the massive jump in difficulty in Tournaments. This game is worth a look.

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