Tennis games have made their way to the US market slowly but surely, two games who obviously helped spark the fire of interest are Virtua Tennis and Mario Tennis. Namco will soon be releasing the first ever tennis game on the PS2, much more, the first tennis game of 2002, and they’re product is seemingly an ‘ace.’
What immediately sets aside Smash Court from all competitors is the fact that it has the best star filled line-up in years. On the men’s side, players included are Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and Patrick Rafter, all of which have been ranked as high as #1 in the world by the ATP Tour. Even more so, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras --the two biggest names in US Tennis-- haven’t been in a video game in ages, not even in Tennis 2K2. On the women’s side, featured players are Martina Hingis, Lindsey Davenport, Anna Kournikova (woohoo!), and Monica Seles. Likewise, all of these women have held the #1 in the world rank by the WTA (excluding A. Kournikova). Aside from the Williams sisters, the female’s side of the draw is very good, despite the small number.
Adding to the all-star lineup of players is the plethora of playing modes. Players can choose from 5 modes in all: Exhibition, Arcade (4-players), Time-attack, Challenge, and Tournament mode. Time-attack times your matches against other opponents, and challenge mode teaches you the various techniques and such to playing the game. Tournament mode, which is the core mode, lets you pick a player and hit the courts in the four grand slam tournaments; the biggest tournaments of the year. Wimbledon, US Open, and Australian Open are the three licensed tournaments, and the 4th tournament is called Tour de Paris, which is basically the French Open without the brand name. The three main surfaces are also included: hard courts for the US and Australian Opens, clay for Tour de Paris, and grass for Wimbledon.
Smash Court has all the various shots needed to make the game of tennis interesting. X starts the point off by tossing the ball in the air. If it’s your first serve, it would be probable to press the circle button because it initiates a hard, powerful serve. In turn, this serve has less chance of going in. On your second opportunity to serve, X will be the button you will want to press, which is a second serve -- a softer shot. Pertaining to both serves, when the ball is hit at the highest point of contact, the results are the best. All the typical strokes have also been included. X hits a slice shot (tons of backspin which makes it die as it hits the ground); square puts backspin on the ball, not as much as the slice; triangle is the lob button; and circle is used to hit a topspin shot. These are your basic ground stroke shots from the baseline. When at the net, you can volley with X; and, of course, you can hit a huge overhead if the opposition lobs the ball. All of these strokes are steered with a direction on the d-pad or joy-stick. And where you are standing, as well as your reaction time, will also have an impact on how severe the angles are. Then there’s the power shot which is an arcade type hit. This shot is utilized when your opponent is off-balance, almost always resulting in a winner.
The first blemish in this game has to be the graphics. Not only are they not up to par with the power ability of the PS2, they also just lack in detail. However, the graphics aren’t the end of the world. Regardless of this disappointment, Smash Court still holds lots of promise. What’s strange though, is that this arcade game was initially built around the 246 arcade board, which is very friendly to the PS2 hardware. Therefore, many graphical improvements would be expected, but there are few present. As for the character models, they’re easily distinguishable from one another, but again, just not very glamorous. This is especially surprising considering the fact that there are only eight players in all. On a good note, the animations seem to have been worked out well and built upon their real-life counterpart’s motions. Examples of this are the vast difference in serve animations as well as ground strokes and volleys. Additionally, the player’s face is animated during the course of the game to help better depict the emotion felt on the court. The heart-beat type movement from the controller in intense situations also contributes to the feel of realism and emotion.
The audio department has never proved to be too much of the importance in this type of game. Smash Court is presented with basic ‘pops’ and ‘pows’ from the different shots, and the sound of shoes squeaking about the court. In addition, an announcer is included to present the action on-court. That’s about it.
Its been a good couple of years since the last good tennis game has been released. With the PS2 version of Tennis 2K2 still nowhere in sight, Namco has the perfect chance to unleash their version of today’s game of tennis. Namco’s chances are looking quite good too. Check back with us when yours truly does the full review.
3/2/2002 Joseph Comunale