With Wimbledon just round the corner, we see Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament 2, the latest tennis game from Namco, following in the footsteps of the successful original. Tennis games in the past have suffered from the classic sports game problem - sometimes it’s just too clunky and the computer seems to be just too good for you to get anywhere. In this competitive gaming world, how does this latest offering present itself?
The first thing you notice is that you have a choice of 16 seeded players to choose from, a selection of men and women, including the luckless Tim Henman and the darlings of tennis Anna Kournikova and Daniela Hantuchova. Of course the real players are in there - Hewitt, Serena Williams, Mr Federer and so on, but the appearance of Miss Kournikova is interesting seeing as she has still yet to win a major tournament. That fact aside, I decided to play with Anna Kournikova, and gave her a good thrashing her around the court for a few hours. It was, and I think you’ll agree, the decent thing to do.
You have a range of game types to play: Arcade, Exhibition, Pro Tour, Practice and so on, and the option for singles or doubles. In the Pro Tournament section you can pick the major Grand Slam venues and surfaces around the world and play to your hearts content. Of course, I was off to Centre Court Wimbledon. Gameplay is what it should all be about and from the outset you get a good solid feel from the game. Using the direction controls on the serve, you can choose where to make the ball drop. When playing Tim Henman, I managed to double-fault an entire service game to lose the semi-finals of Wimbledon - you can’t ask for more realism than that. The player will do their best to return the shot if they are close enough and you time your button-press well - again, you can change the type of return shot and spin of the ball somewhat by using the direction keys. It gives you lots of control, and you really can look for the space and post the ball though it. Yes, it does take practice, and no, it’s not simple, but it is tennis.
Graphically we found that Smash Court Tennis 2 delivered the goods. You can’t expect too much, but a great deal of effort has been put into creating the characters. Apart from the players, the courts have been well constructed, as well as the brands associated with the game - Adidas gets a good showing here, and the comedy ball avoidance of the Wimbledon line-judges is satisfyingly familiar. There is also the option to create your own player, not only in name, but also in appearance. We created the most controversial of players: a stick-thin tall blond girl, more suited to the catwalk thank the court. Once you have your player, you can pick styles - how she serves, how she backhands and so on. There didn’t seem to be an option for vocal expression, but this seems to be included to a reasonable level.
Overall, there is little to fault in the game. It needs time and commitment to really do well as practice makes perfect, and you can’t just walk in and start winning games. This is a welcome challenge, although they have given you enough talent to begin with to keep you playing. It was surprisingly addictive, which is always a good sign. If you are interested in some doubles action, it’s also a good shout for playing with your friends. The interesting thing about the game is that it is good to watch - and there is a spectator option included - and a number of different camera angles. Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament 2 will appeal to gamers from all walks of life, sports game fans, tennis fans, and perverts alike. Seriously, its a lot better than expected, a welcome challenge and very playable.