Smash Court Tennis 3 Review (PSP)
It's been widely stated and often accepted that in the oft debated “arcade vs sim” war that sports gamers wage daily, the platform of choice often goes a long way in determining the label that a game receives. Ten years ago, sports gamers who wanted the most realistic sim experience, pretty much, had to go to the PC. Gamers who wanted the more arcade style were more apt to saddle up to the living room TV and play their console of choice. In the decade since, the lines have been blurred and fantastic sim experiences can be found on the console and sports gamers are just as likely to find an arcade style treat on their PC.
The one platform that is often overlooked in this back and forth is the handheld market. Perhaps it’s because most gamers simply have lower expectations from handhelds and what they can actually do beyond being a great distraction and fun pick up and play experience. Sim style gamers, like I fancy myself, don’t really expect to find a sports title on the PSP or DS that attempts to walk on the realistic side of the court.
The folks at Bandai Namco Games, the owner of the quintessential arcade character, are taking that step with the release of Smash Court Tennis 3 on the PSP. Somewhat deceiving in title, there is far more Tennis packed into this game than Smash. Smash Court Tennis 3 is a calculated risk perhaps, but a welcome addition and change of pace for the handheld sports gamer.
When you step out onto the virtual court with one of the 16 Pros in the game, including household names like Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, or Marina Hingis, or with your created Pro the first thing that will stand out to most in the speed of the gameplay. At first glance, you may feel that the game is playing slow. That is until you take a second to think about the real sport of tennis and the speed at which it is played 95% of the time. In tennis, the only thing that is consistently moving at a fast pace is the ball. Smash Court Tennis 3 does a great job at nailing the speed of the game. Players move in a very deliberate and strategic manner. It’s not a full sprint from baseline to baseline with every ground stroke. It’s more about positioning, shot selection and a well-timed dash and smash than going a million miles an hour.
The game modes in Smash Court Tennis 3 are also as deep as the gameplay. Besides a standard Exhibition Mode and a cool Arcade Mode, you will find a Tutorial Mode that is chock full of lessons for all levels of play, a Challenge Mode that includes top shelf mini-games including the tennis equivalents of Bandai-Namco favorites Pac-Man and Galaga, the ability to play through the PSP wireless network, and a great Pro Tour Mode.
The Pro Tour Mode is really the core of the gameplay modes and provided one of the more immersive experiences available on the PSP. In this mode, you’ll create and up and coming tennis star and attempt to climb the rankings on a quest to be the #1 player in the world. The level of customization is surprisingly deep for a handheld. Not only the physical appearance and the clothes on your back, but even the way you serve and volley can be fine tuned before hitting the court for the first time. You’ll even choose a rival to plague you throughout your career. Through tournament and training experience, you’ll climb the ladder and gain expanded attributes along the way.
If deep sim gameplay on a handheld doesn’t impress you enough, Smash Court Tennis 3 is also one of the most visually pleasing sports gaming experiences available on the PSP. The look and feel of the player models and environments are among the most clean and vibrant available. Even on their diminutive scale, the players actually look like their real life counterparts. They move around the court with a smooth flowing style and even go as far as showing emotion between points. It will be hard not to compare future PSP releases to this game’s visuals for many years to come.
The sounds, which aren’t always consider a huge part of the tennis experience, work on a very high level in this title for just that reason. They don’t over power the action and are a subtle under stated part of the overall feel of the game.
If someone told me that I was going to find great sim style gameplay in a tennis game, I would have been skeptical based on recent experience. If they threw in the fact that it would be on the PSP, I would have thought they were insane. Instead, I’m the one who is pleasantly surprised, even shocked, at all that Smash Court Tennis 3 has to offer. It is easily among the top sports titles available on the PSP.