May 29, 2007 - If you're keeping score, it's Virtua Tennis 30, everybody else love when it comes to PSP tennis games. While other activities have flourished with multiple portable titles, the clay-court sport has seen limited action on Sony's handheld, but Namco Bandai plans to try its hand at this racket come fall.
Smash Court Tennis 3 -- the franchise's first handheld romp -- is packed with 14 courts, ad-hoc multiplayer and 16 athletes such as American sensation James Blake, "Make every shot a power shot" Maria Sharapova and Swiss Miss Martina Hingis. After a day of lobs, volleys and deuces in the IGN office, it seems Smash Court wants to make one thing clear: this isn't Virtua Tennis.
Clash of the titans.
Whereas SEGA tennis title featured arcadey speed, unbelievable volleys and crazy arenas, Smash Court has the majority of its gameplay anchored in reality. Players feel heavier, move slower and display a strategic sense. From the opening serve, the computer will try to isolate you in a corner of the clay and then unleash a stinging power shot to the opposite side of the court for a point. If you don't have a game plan, you're headed for a John McEnroe meltdown.
To become the virtual Andre Agassi you know you want to be, you're going to need to grab your training gear and hit the game's 24-part tutorial. Button mashing and blind luck might get you past ad-hoc chumps, but even on the normal difficulty setting (there are four levels to choose from), the computer will own you unless you can pick the right move for the right scenario. Go for an easy shot -- the result of tapping any button while moving toward the ball -- when you just need to keep the volley going but know that your move won't control the trajectory or speed of the ball. Feel free to unload on the incoming yellow fuzzy with a power shot (hold square), but if you didn't ace the education session on the shot, good luck guessing when you're supposed to be holding and when you're supposed to be releasing -- be too early or too late and prepare to be punished.
Once you get the game's mechanics, which come complete with a sprint button and stamina/endurance gauge for each player, there's a plethora of modes for you to chase your netted dream in. Exhibition lets you customize the rules and play in any stadium you like; arcade takes your chosen player through one of five tournaments; and ad-hoc lets you take on friends packing the UMD or share your game -- albeit in a limited capacity --with Smash Court-less buds.
However, the meat and potatoes of Smash Court is the Pro Tour. At the onset of the mode you'll create a character and be charged with taking him or her from 250th in the world to the top of the tennis profession. As you knock off competitors in tournaments, you'll earn experience points to put into your athlete's skills and shop points to expand your wardrobe and accessory counts -- as of now, the stuff you can buy is just the stuff you passed up when you created your player. You'll get invitations and fan letters after matches, manage your training sessions and schedule via a palm pilot and monitor your rival -- you'll have to choose one at the beginning of your career -- as he or she progresses through the crowd.