Smash Court Tennis 3 Updated Hands-On

It's time to dust off your racquet, open a fresh tin of balls, and take to the courts with Namco's upcoming Smash Court Tennis 3.

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It's been a long time since Smash Court Tennis last appeared. Prior to Smash Court Tennis 3 on the PlayStation Portable, the last time Namco Bandai's tennis series made it to a console was on the PlayStation 2 back in 2004. Although it was undoubtedly a grand-slam contender back in its day, how does Smash Court Tennis shape up on today's current-generation hardware? We unzipped our virtual racket bag to find out for ourselves.

Smash Court has seen some new competition since its last outing, given that 2K Sports' Top Spin has established itself as a respectable tennis series alongside Sega's Virtua Tennis. Both Top Spin 3 and Smash Court Tennis 3 are set to arrive in June this year, and with Wimbledon just around the corner, they're due to capitalise on the height of tennis fever.

While you've not got Roland Garros, Wimbledon or Flushing Meadows, you do have a wide variety of venues to choose from.
While you've not got Roland Garros, Wimbledon or Flushing Meadows, you do have a wide variety of venues to choose from.

We last saw Smash Court when we had a brief play at the Tokyo Game Show 2007. This time around, we got our hands on near-final code and are happy to report that the game is looking increasingly promising. Sixteen players are available straight off the bat, with household names including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, David Nalbandian, and James Blake on offer. Meanwhile, the women's lineup includes Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova, Nicole Vaidisova, Amelie Mauresmo, and other famous names. Despite having bowed out from professional tennis playing and the public spotlight recently, Justine Henin and Martina Hingis are also included. Unfortunately, there was no sign of classic players from yesteryear, such as Top Spin 3's Boris Becker or Bjorn Borg.

In addition to licensed players, the player-creation process was generally pretty good, with a thorough range of options across the player's profile, body, head, outfit, gear, and playing style. You can tweak a broad range of details including the facial structure, hair, physique, and playing style. The actual models look a little bit plastic, but are still a nice addition to the game.

Smash Court Tennis 3's gameplay isn't as forgiving as other tennis games such as Virtua Tennis. The controls don't feel as responsive or as natural as in Sega's game, and they require perfect timing if you're to beat the AI in a match. The new serve power meter looks like a good addition, with a ring around the ball indicating when the time is right to strike. The controls are pretty standard, with top spin, lob, slice, and flat shots at your disposal with a press of the face buttons, whilst the triggers are used to make a quick dash. You'll also get the opportunity to express emotion after notable points, with praise, angry, calm, and sad expressions to illustrate your mood. There's nothing like having your player throw his or her racquet across the court when you feel like getting your John McEnroe on.

Even on the easy setting, you'll break a sweat trying to dominate the court, but thankfully there's a good tutorial mode to help out those unseeded armchair players. Although there are plenty of superstars on tap, Namco unfortunately hasn't secured the licences for the prestigious grand-slam tournaments, which are instead replaced by the Garden City Arena Sydney, French Court de la Contribution pilote, British Royal Tennis Green, and United Tennis Centre arenas. Other courts are located in Italy, Canada, Japan, Spain, Belgium, and more--although to be honest, the matches could well take place anywhere.

The game holds up pretty well in the graphics department, with both the menus and the game's action looking sharp and bright. The player models are detailed, although their movements and overall realism don't seem as natural as in other tennis games we've played recently--which was also the case for the environments. On the plus side, you can change the time of day by half-hour increments from morning to late night, with shadows and lights following your lead.

Players from the Men's and Women's tours are well-represented.
Players from the Men's and Women's tours are well-represented.

The sound effects work well too, with the thwack of the ball sounding reassuringly solid. There's some great use of ambient sound effects, such as the usual cheers and taunts of the crowd, the odd inconsiderate mobile-phone ring, and even helicopters, jet planes, and propeller planes flying over on occasion. However, we did find the bird chirps to be a bit out of place. The soundtrack is unforgivably J-pop, though, which is similar to other Japanese-developed sports games such as Pro Evolution Soccer 2008, but some licensed Western music certainly wouldn't go astray in the final release.

We'll reserve final judgement until our review of the game, but Smash Court Tennis 3 seems to be shaping up as a solid tennis game with a broad range of players, stages, and customisable options on hand. Unfortunately, PlayStation 3 owners will have to sit this one out for the time being, but Xbox 360 owners can snatch up a copy when it comes out on July 4 in Europe and August in North America.

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