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Tennis video games have undergone something of an evolution in their lifetime. As controls are key to Smash Court Tennis 3 let's take a look at how exactly they have developed.
For a long time tennis games were essentially graphical reworkings of the early Pong concept. These simplistic bat and ball games were soon replaced by more controllable titles such as the excellent Mario Tennis - games that gave the player more shot-options and characters to choose from. Then Virtua Tennis and Top Spin took the micro shot management away and let the game's simulation decide the outcome. The simplicity of directing a player to make a shot and letting the game do the rest was not only easier to get to grips with, but also resulted in some great tactical gameplay. Then came the Wii and all manner of motion controlled tennis games. Although initially exciting, before the MotionPlus they mostly struggle to reproduce a real tennis swing. Baring the excellent Wii-Sports Tennis.
The Smash Court Tennis franchise pre-dates many of the modern games, and has existed in many guises including one licence title based around Anna Kournikova. This third edition, on the 360 and PSP, looks to take tennis controls another step forward.
Sports games recreate a wide variety of real life competitive games. Depending on the sport, these will either have an action or strategy focus. Popular sports games are often released on an annual basis, each year the game receives new player rosters and game improvements.
Smash Court Tennis looks like other modern tennis games such as Virtua Tennis and Top Spin, but it has an extra level of control. You still charge up a shot by holding down a particular button for slice, topspin and lob, but now you also need to carefully time the release of the button. A perfect shot is only achieved if you release the button when the on screen player hits the ball. This not only better connects you to the action but also enables you to adjust the direction and weight of the ball with a late flick on the analogue stick. As can be seen in the varying review scores, it can take a while to learn, but once mastered is riddled with reality.
Whereas other realistic tennis games make you commit to a shot (and direction) almost as soon as the opponent has returned the ball, Smash Court Tennis lets you make last minute adjustments. The additional use of the analogue stick to finesse the shot into place as you strike through with your racquet comes surprisingly close the gestured controls of Wii-Sports.
Gamers will enjoy Smash Court Tennis 3 because of the feeling of connection they get when hitting the ball. There is nothing better than sprinting to the line with the top spin button pressed, releasing it at the last minute and flicking the analogue stick back across court to see your shot dip across the net beating the other player.
The use of the analogue stick to apply the accumulated power of the button press really adds a gestured feel to the controls. There is real sense of nuance and finesse to getting a shot right. Tennis this magical hasn't been seen since Wii-Sports Tennis made the Wii such an instant success.
As in real life, tennis matches in Smash Court Tennis 3 can last less than half an hour or go on for three or four. Where time is short you can play a short set game - reducing both the number of games required to win a set and the number of sets in the match.
The key element in terms of time here though is in finding someone with a similar amount of playtime on the game. Even match ups like this take longer to play but are every bit worth the extra investment.
Although younger and novice players should be able to run around and hit the ball, this is really a game aimed at intermediate and expert gamers. In addition to the co-ordination required to move and hit shots, the extra level of control described above is essential to the ongoing enjoyment of the game. Trying to access more powerful or angled shots means you have to grappling with timed button releases and late flicks of the analogue stick .
Smash Court Tennis 3 is a game that all can enjoy, but that experts will find the most benefit in. The multi-layered controls, ability to learn new shots and develop your player and the high spec realistic graphics make this one of the best grown up tennis games available.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
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