“Power, technique, speed, determination. All are vital aspects of competition. This moment is a culmination of all your hard work, skill, and perseverance. Make your dreams a reality.”
Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament was released nearly two years ago and at the time was most commonly compared to Sega’s Virtua Tennis games. But while Virtua Tennis was more focused on arcade style action, Pro Tournament leaned more towards a simulation style of play. Namco’s latest game in the series, Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament 2, distinguishes itself even more from Sega’s Virtua Tennis powerhouse with even stricter, more precision-oriented gameplay tweaks that, once mastered, makes for a far more interesting game of tennis than was found in the original. The learning curve is quite steep compared to the pong-like simplicity of Virtua Tennis and Sega Sports Tennis, but the reward is more control, a greater variety of customization options, and a substantially more realistic feel overall.
In terms of included real-life professional tennis players, Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament 2 features double the amount that was found in its predecessor. You’ll get to play as such tennis greats as Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Tim Henman, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and Kim Clijsters. Over 10 different real-life courts are included and Grand Slam Tournament fans will be glad to know that all four major tournament locations are represented in all their true-to-life detail.
Those looking for a solid, realistic tennis game on the PS2 should be satisfied with Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament 2’s spot-on (almost frustratingly so) gameplay and variety of play modes. The arcade mode is your standard series of three to five tournaments, where you’ll be pitted against some truly challenging opponent AI in matches where the outcome really doesn’t matter. The Exhibition mode gives the player more control over the proceedings – you can choose your opponents, match type (singles or doubles), and court location – and also gives you the option of getting up to three other people in on the action.
But the meat of the game is found in its Pro Tour mode, which allows you to create and customize your own unique character in terms of look, style, and skill. The create-a-character system doesn’t feature nearly the depth of some other sports games but it gets the job done with a nice assortment of different body and facial types to choose from. Your player’s abilities are partitioned into five unique categories, and a few subcategories as well. As you start your week-to-week career, you’ll be quite limited to what you can do and what tournaments you can participate in, but as you steadily accumulate experience points through winning tournaments and successfully completing training trials, you’ll work your way through the ranks and start getting recognized in the world of tennis; receiving fan mail and special invites to more prestigious tournaments with higher potential monetary payouts. You can use the cash you earn at the pro shop to buy new clothing and various kinds of gear that will subtly enhance your performance and look.
One unique aspect about the Pro Tour mode is the variety of objectives that will be thrown at you just prior to the commencement of a match. Completing these objectives, which include such things as performing a certain percentage of perfect serves, pulling off a certain number of ‘smashes’, and hitting the ball smack dab on the service line, will earn you an even greater number of experience points that you can use to enhance your player’s stats. These objectives put an attractive spin (no pun intended) on what is essentially a standard issue career mode.
Challenge mode is a collection of challenges that can also be found in the Pro Tour mode, but instead of having to fight your way to them, you’ll have easy access to them immediately. I’d recommend playing through the game’s extensive tutorial mode before attempting to complete these skill-based challenges, especially since there are some subtle nuances to the gameplay mechanics that are easy to overlook but yet very essential to completing some of the challenges. Spectator mode is just as it sounds. Choose the players you want to see compete and then watch them compete. Nothing to write home about.
Smash Court Tennis Pro Tourament 2’s variety of included shot types adds some interesting strategy to the game. For each type of shot you can perform, be it a slice, lob, top spin, flat, or drop shot, there is a type of shot that can most efficiently return them. Of course this also depends on where the opponent is at on the court, but returning a lob with a slice will often net (no pun intended) better results than using a standard top spin to return. Each face button on the controller corresponds to a different type of shot, but the ante is upped by allowing the player to modify the type of shot by pressing different directions on the analog stick or d-pad. For instance, tapping triangle on a return will result in a standard lob, while hitting triangle and down will result in a drop shot. Timing is the determining factor to how much power is put behind these shots; by hitting the correct face button at the right moment the ball with briefly light up and shoot towards your opponent with considerable speed.
Visually, Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament 2 is one of, if not the best-looking tennis game on the PlayStation 2. Though this is hardly a difficult achievement since tennis games on the system have been few and far between. Character models animate very naturally and smoothly, and plenty of realistic textures are mapped on to them. The various courts found in the game are also very sharp and realistic featuring plenty of little details and even displaying wear and tear as the matches progress. Don’t expect many flashy, fancy special effects though because Smash Court 2 is strictly focused on one thing, realism, both in terms of its gameplay and graphical presentation. The sound in the game is probably its weakest aspect. The crowd reactions are generic, there’s an annoying announcer with an English-accent, and some silly, upbeat instrumentals for the soundtrack.
All in all, Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament 2 is a solidly entertaining recreation of the sport of tennis on a platform that is in dire need of just that. Namco’s willingness to deviate even more from Sega’s arcade style opus is a clear sign that the franchise is striving for something other than direct competition with the current genre leader. But it ultimately comes down to preference. Smash Court is a simulation style game any way you slice (no pun intended, again) it, while Sega Sports Tennis is strictly an arcade style affair. Both accomplish what they set out to do and both offer plenty of potential game time and enjoyment, but since Sega Sports Tennis has been around for quite a while, Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament 2 is definitely worth checking out.