If you are looking for a tennis game simulator for the XBOX 360 video gaming platform, check out Atari’s Smash Court Tennis 3 which just hit store shelves in North America this week.
Smash Court Tennis 3 (SCT3) follows in the footsteps of two successful earlier releases, and it joins Topspin 3 as the latest entries in the XBOX 360 tennis genre.
Developed by NAMCO BANDAI Games, SCT3 has a lot to offer any serious tennis or gaming fan. Unlike its primary competition, SCT3 goes to great lengths to simulate the pro tennis world, and it does a good, if not great job.
The game allows users to choose from a curious assortment of 16 present-day and retired tennis pros. Among the men you can pick Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, James Blake, David Nalbandian and even Andreas Seppi (Has to be his biggest PR moment. Was there an Italian on the development team?). The women are equally an odd mix with Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova, Amelie Mauresmo, Sania Mirza and Michaella Krajicek.
As advertised, the game is quick and easy to learn, but you still should undergo some training to get accustomed to the controls and play style, something I didn’t do at first.
Instead, after I opened the box I just jumped right into a match. I selected “arcade” mode, picked Roger Federer and next thing I knew I was facing Andreas Seppi on a clay court in a stadium resembling planet Andor from Return of the Jedi. Apparently the court was in really in Canada, or at least that’s what the screen said.
Turned out an Ewok would have done better than me. The match to three games didn’t last long as, playing as Federer, I was quickly destroyed by the backward-hat wearing Seppi.
Time for some training.
Like most sports games or simulators SCT3 has a simple yet effective tutorial/training mode that allows you to quickly get your bearings on your groundstrokes, serves and movement. After about a half hour of getting my game into shape, or somewhat into shape, I felt confident enough to get back on the court and have another go at the computer after my dismal opening effort.
SCT3 boasts a number of venues and all four playing surfaces from which to choose. While it’s not licensed to include actual pro events by name, like the Australian and French Opens or Masters events like Cincinnati, it does have reasonable facsimiles of each Slam along with numerous events from other cities around the world, including a stunning Dubai sky court, similar to the helipad on which Andre Agassi and Federer memorably hit a few years ago.
But I’m scared of heights and I needed as an easy win to get my confidence up, so I picked Nadal to play computer Federer on a clay court at the French Open arena clone. “I can’t lose this, can I?” I thought.
The game features some stunning visuals and terrific audio. The shadows on the court actually move as the match goes on. And the stadium renderings are all very well done.
Though somewhat blocky, the players are nicely portrayed, wearing their manufacturer clothing — you can actually select from three different outfits for each player — and up close I think most tennis fans would be able to pick the player by looking at the face.
The crowd in the vast stadium clapped and cheered as the PA introduced each player — my Nadal and the computer’s Federer — in French. Each player walked out of the tunnel, waved and then went to their benches. Game on, only this time I was ready.
Federer to serve.
On the very first point, Federer pulled a serve-and-volley against me. He hits a wide serve to my Rafa’s backhand and then deftly deposits the volley winner into the empty ad court. I was stunned and rattled. Absolute perfect execution.
On the very next point we get into an actual rally until, about eight strokes in, computer Fed hits a short backhand slice to my forehand (yes, that same one Roger abuses people with on the real court), draws me in and then lasers a forehand pass right by me. Ha! I couldn’t believe it. Fed playing Rafa just how he should play him on a clay court. Amazing.
Fed didn’t show much of that variety the rest of our match as he really didn’t need much to win. It was over quickly. We had a lot of long rallies but I found it very difficult to get anything past Roger, and I wound up never winning a game and just a handful of points. But I was just starting out.
Overall, the game really is true to the pro game in many ways and in some ways not so real. I love how fluid the strokes, movement ad serves are. The players really glide around the court and they slide just like they slide in real life on the clay.
The swings and mannerisms of the pros are also nicely duplicated. Sharapova’s pre-serve routine is in there, Federer forehand follow-through can be seen, David Nalbandian’s two-handed backhand is legit and James Blake breaks out that grunt of his.
I even tried to be Tomas Berdych v. computer Feliciano Lopez on grass. Another bad idea as computer F-Lo served/volleyed me and my slow Berydch right off the court.
While keeping the ball in play is fairly straight forward — on an XBOX 360 you just move your player via the left directional stick to the ball, select your shot (X for flat, B for topsin, A for slice/dropshot and Y for lob) and then aim — it was difficult to hit acute angle strokes and down-the-line winners like my computer opponents were able to do, and as I did in training. Then again I’m just a beginner, so maybe with a month or two more of seasoning I’ll have it down.
Serving was also tricky and something I still have yet to come close to mastering. Aces are a rarity in this game as are big serves, which according to the on-court speed gun sometimes top out around 110mph on first serves. So if you are looking to dive and smash winners from all around the court, crush serves and light up the screen, this probably isn’t the game your you. But if you like to work the points, get into long rallies and employ tactics and strategy this might be your ticket.
As the name implies, though, the key of the game is really getting into the net and putting away the volley or smashing the overhead. That’s where points are won and lost and in SCT3 strong net play really is rewarded.
The game also offers plenty of playing options. In addition to a tutorial, you can play in exhibition mode, which is a quick one-on-one or one-v-computer match, or in arcade mode which puts you into a short five-match circuit.
If you are really into it, you can test your skills by embarking on a pro career. Through pro career mode you create and customize your own player, choosing his appearance, clothing, playing style and skills. You start out on the circuit ranked No. 250 in the world with a goal of working toward No. 1. There’s a lot to it and too complicated to get into in full detail here, but you have to select your playing schedule and accumulate points, prize money in hopes of improving your level/ranking which in turn allows you to purchase/acquire more playing skills like more power or accuracy.
Once you build up your player level, SCT3 gives you the ability to compete against other gamers online, provided you have an XBOX Live subscription of course.
There are also several on-court features that stand SCT3 apart from its competition. The game incorporates a challenge system you can use if you feel you got hooked by a bad call, though when you win a challenge on a shot that’s a clear-cut winner evidently the point must be replayed.
As points conclude you can press a button and have your player throw his racquet or give a fist pump or even taunt your opponent. I even noticed that after I, playing as Henin, beat computer Sharapova, the handshake, if you could even call it that, at the net was exceptionally cold! There was no pat on the back like I saw at the conclusion of Rafa/Roger. Intended or not, it was a good touch!
And in addition to singles play you also have the choice of playing doubles.
All in all, Smash Court Tennis 3 is great fun if you are looking for a quality tennis game simulation that features easy gameplay without all the crazy, unrealistic special effects.
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