Iffy controls and blotchy animations mean Smash Court Tennis 3 should restring its racket and try again next year.
- Leveling up your player in Tour mode is rewarding
- Character-creation tool allows for goofy-looking world-class athletes.
- Control is sluggish
- Online play lags
- Computer players are unstoppable when they rush the net
- Animations are inconsistent.
The initial moments of Smash Court Tennis 3 are quite deceiving. You go through a rigorous training regimen, as well as learn different shots and how to aim for the alleys. And at some point, you assume that you'll be able to master your racket. This is untrue. While it seems like you're just dealing with a steep learning curve at first, it quickly becomes apparent that the controls in the third Smash Court Tennis are just sloppy. It is possible to have success--even some fun--in the single-player tournament by abusing the inept strategies of your artificial foes, but the experience quickly becomes flat and unsatisfying.
You can choose from a number of real-world athletes in Smash Court--including current world number ones Rafael Nadal and Ana Ivanovic--but it's much more entertaining to create your own goofy character in the robust creation tool. It can be difficult to mold a good-looking participant, but it's certainly fun using your imagination to give life to some creepy-looking guy who shouldn't be allowed out of his house, much less onto an international tennis event. You can tweak your eyes and mouth to grotesque proportions, but what makes this stand out as something special is the baffling attire to which you have access. You can actually wear a shirt displaying an image of the painting Girl With a Pearl Earring, a devastatingly effective tool of intimidation. A pro shop is available if you want to buy new clothes, but why would you want to mess with a good thing?
Things go downhill when you actually enter a match. The onscreen action does not mirror your button pushes. If your player is completely stationary and the ball is hit directly at you, it seems logical to think that you would be able to hit the ball all the way to the left by holding left on the controller. This is rarely the case. The ball usually stays toward the middle of the court unless you are off to one side. Trying to toss in a lob or drop shot to confuse your opponent is just as pointless. Drop shots are far too slow, ensuring that even a napping opponent will easily be able to chase it down. Lobs float tauntingly in the air, allowing your opponent to rain down smashes with ease. Matches essentially boil down to hitting the ball really hard and hoping your opponent just misses it.
And they will miss it. The animations in Smash Court are just as unpredictable as the controls. Oftentimes, your player will not even swing at a passing ball even as you desperately slam on the button. It's one thing to have a player swing and miss, because at least the effort is there; but frantically chasing down a well-placed shot only to watch in horror when your player refuses to swing at the moment of truth is just crushing. Other times, frames of animation will be dropped to make a swing work. If a ball is coming right at your head, your player will magically slide just before he or she swings, so the ball will make contact with your racket rather than your face. The magic-slide issue makes it much easier to return shots that should be impossible.
Even with the control and animation issues, matches are still incredibly easy. Your artificial opponents do not understand how to win a tennis match. They'll hit the ball hard, but they are mostly content with staying on the baseline rather than trying anything tricky to get one past you. However, in the infrequent moments when the computer tries a different strategy, it only cements how broken the tennis mechanics are. AI opponents will sometimes rush the net immediately after they serve, which all but ensures they will win the point. It's impossible to hit the ball around them because of the imprecise controls and the computer's ability to magically slide. Also, trying to lob it over their heads will only result in a devastating smash attack. You have to hope they miss an easy shot or they'll win the point every time. Because they aren't smart enough to consistently employ the only strategy that works for them, you'll still be able to breeze through the ranks with little difficulty.
You'll spend most of your time in Pro Tour mode, and thankfully, it has a number of different options to keep things varied. You can compete in tournaments, train your character, try to raise your popularity in charity events, and earn sponsors. The finicky controls make the training and sponsor events particularly annoying, though. These ask you to complete tasks within a short time limit, such as hitting targets, and they can be maddeningly frustrating. The sponsor events are much more engaging since they're more about spectacle than fair competition. For instance, you'll be asked to win five points competing against a pair of opponents. At the very least, these add some much needed variety when you need a break from the tournaments.
Smash Court Tennis 3 has too many flaws to make for a satisfying tennis experience. Even the online play is so overloaded with lag that it becomes far more frustrating than fun. Building your own character and moving through the ranks has its own charm, but the on-the-court action is too unpredictable and shallow to hold your interest long. There are simply too many unforced errors here.