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Destructoid review: Smash Court Tennis 3

3:04 PM on 08.25.2008 // Brad Nicholson

Before my nastiest knee accident, I was a terror on clay. Opponents would quiver as my mighty backhand delivered crushing blows that needled the line and ran them to exhaustion. My serve wasn’t too bad either. A few years ago when Pete Sampras and I were just kidding around at my private court, I served up a nasty 122 MPH ball that caught on fire and put a small crater on the opposite side of the net. Needless to say, Pete couldn’t return it.

Those glorious days are over for me. Pete and I had a falling out over a call and I haven’t been the same man since I bent my leg inside out. Now, I’m only left with videogames to sate my tennis desire. Recently, I received Atari’s Smash Court Tennis 3 and in my glee to stick it into my Xbox 360, I nearly broke the tray. We all know my enthusiasm for games is top-notch, but is Atari’s new offering worthy of your attention?

Hit the break for the full review.

Smash Court Tennis 3 (Xbox 360)
Developed by Namco-Bandai Games
Published by Atari

Released on August 19, 2008

At first, I thought there was something wrong with me. I’ve casually played Top Spin and Virtua Tennis for years, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t taste success in Smash Court Tennis 3. Every serve was slow and painful to watch. Every volley, forehand, and backhand was clumsy and misaligned. I assumed it was because I was out of practice, but just for fun, I popped in Top Spin and found that I still had it. What is this mystery problem with Smash Court?

I think I have it now. Smash Court Tennis 3 is in this odd gray area between simulation and arcade-based play. All of the physics of the ball are almost unreal, while discovering how to hit the perfect shot is completely possible (with a ridiculous amount of practice). The characters are sluggish like in a simulation, while the control that players have after making contact is phenomenal. This kind mishmash, in terms of style, is what Smash Court brings to the player with every match.

And it’s goddamn confusing. When depressing the run button, your character bolts like an elk, but right before you line up a shot, he trips or just watches the ball go past. After every perfect AI serve to your offhand, you’re expected to shuffle to get the perfect bead on the ball, but the characters move like 60-year-old sponsored athletes. The worst part is that the game is based around timed shots. To get the best effect out of your shot you need to hold the corresponding button that you desire for a few seconds. It doesn’t give the shot noticeable power – it just makes it more accurate. And where the ball goes is your guess as good as mine. I’ve spent several hours trying to nurse the ball from right to left with the analogue stick just to find that nothing truly progressive happens unless you hold down the button perfectly. It’s frustrating to play a game that you have to be perfectly skilled in just to have fun.

And it’s a shame tennis rookies won’t be able to have fun. The Pro World Tour mode is a decent set of options and parameters to experience with your created character.  The basic object of the mode is to bring your character from rags to riches in a series of tournaments, sponsorships and training exercises. It breaks down into a weekly schedule where you can do all of the above, rest, and then repeat. The menus are a bit lame and can be hard to follow initially, but after a few minutes of pouring through the options it becomes quite clear as to what you can do and when.

The biggest problem with the mode results from its character creation and style points handed out. Firstly, the character creation options are as schizophrenic as the gameplay. You get a mix between standard garbage and some interesting facial grid mapping like in Fight Night. You’ll never come out with a guy that will look like you, though, as every character that pops out of this ingenious thing will look as ugly as someone from Bethesda’s Oblivion. The thing that hurts the most about the creation is that your character comes out absolutely bone dry in terms of ability and, because of that, you’ll lose a ton of matches in Pro World Tour.

But the game does possess a unique RPG experience in terms of leveling abilities. Losing matches (which is the only thing that I can do well in this game) gives you points to put in your character. The training challenges do the same. The only problem is playing the game, and that’s still wretched.

The visuals and sound are really no good. The characters have the same flair as last generation and the music is exceptionally grating. I wonder exactly what kind of market developers shoot for when they toss in these terrible rhythms? I know I wasn’t clawing at the walls for extremely up-tempo Katamari stuff.  The courts look decent, although particularly bright. The blue courts feel like I walked into a strip club during a neon special.

The game has multiplayer, but don’t get your hopes up. Smash Court has as many players as Denis Dyack has friends. I figured that, at the very least, I could play against someone struggling as much as I, but I couldn’t find a match in several hours of looking. I don’t have the stamina to stay up with the European folks, so I’m going to assume this will be representative of what most players will face while playing the game.

Overall, I can’t say that I am pleased. The game just isn’t fun. The spotty controls, rigid character movement, and frail character creation drag Smash Court into the ground. It’s unfortunate that a fun, easy to maneuver tennis game hasn’t hit the market in a long time. Hopefully the next incarnation of the series will take the decent groundwork of this game and build to make it a better experience. In this condition though, it’s best to avoid the game entirely.

Score – 4.0 (Poor. An admirable effort with a sliver of promise, but essentially mediocre.)

Brad Nicholson,
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