Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament 2
The Xbox’s got Top Spin, the GameCube will soon get a new version of the N64-classic Mario Tennis, but as for tennis games on Sony’s PlayStation 2, all was quiet on the western front. Luckily Namco realized this and they released Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament 2. Will this game be a benchmark for games to come or will it just recieve the award for longest title of a PS2 game?
Although the arcade-like menu’s and jingles make you think otherwise, this game is actually a tennis simulation. That means you don’t have to expect that you can blow your opponent off the court right from the start. If you do, you just might run into a “game, set & match” sooner than you think. It is highly recommended that you try the tutorials first. These are very clear and they introduce you to the wide array of hits and playing methods. Top spins, slices, drop shots, lobs, serve & volley, you name it, it’s all included. After a bit of practise you can master them all. Needless to say the well thought-out and responsive controls help a lot.
The game features every imagineable game mode, from training and exhibition matches to Grand Slams. The only thing I miss, is an online mode. A game like this seems destined to be played against an online opponent, but unfortunately not all dreams can come true. Don’t mourn however, because there is much fun to be had with SCTPT2, both in single as in multiplayer.
The most important singleplayer gametype is the elaborate “Pro Tour”, a.k.a Career mode. The first you do here is pick a male or female character that can be customized in a million ways. From hair colour, weight (and thus also cupsize) to even the colour of your wristbands. Once you finally have a character you like, you’ll begin a new season. You start as 250th on the ATP of WTA rankings and by winning tournaments -or at least getting good results- you’ll go up on the ladder. That is not all however. Good results also earn you experience points, that can be used to improve your tennis player’s skills. That way he’ll be able to hit a harder top spin or play a more accurate drop shot.
As you gain XP, more tournaments will become available and you’ll be able to participate in the Grand Slams (Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, US Open), without going through those pesky qualifyings.
Considering the fact that an entire season would take forever to complete, the guys at Namco found an interesting way to shorten things a bit. In each set you get to play a few so-called “turning points”. These are important games in a set. If you manage to win the turning point games, you’ll win the set most of the time (and eventually the match after 2 or 3 sets). This new gimmick saves a lot of time and makes gameplay exciting, but it can also cause frustration if you quickly lose a match this way. Another way to win the turning points is to complete the mission you recieve. When entering your first Grand Slams you revieve nearly impossible missions and even if you can complete them, it’s still not sure whether you’ll win the set. This is a clear example of cheating AI, but this degrades when you rank higher. The real die-hards (read: total tennis freaks without any form of social life) still have the possibility to completely play each match .
But enough with that, the game also features an exhibition mode in which you can play with up to 4 players (through Multitap). This is also where you get to play with several official top players such as Lleyton Hewitt, Tim Henman, Serena Williams, Marat Safin, our Belgian prides Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters and even the ultimate tennisbabe Anna Kournikova! And, just like in real life, she has more looks than tennis skills. Unfortunately the line-up of existing players is far from complete. The game lacks the Roland Garros finalists, Guillermo Coria and Gaston Gaudio, the most incredible tennis player of the last 3 years, Roger Federer, the Brazilian superstar Gustavo Kuerten and the groaning, incredibly beautiful Wimbledon winner Maria Sharapova. But hey, besides this (somewhat big) flaw, there is still more than enough going for this game that justifies buying this title. Although Mario Tennis 64, in my opinion the best tennisgame ever, still offers that tiny bit more fun, you can enjoy Smash Court Tennis 2 for months, both alone as with friends.
When it comes to graphics, we can simply say they are very fine. All of the existing players really look like their living brethren and famous courts such as “Centre Court” or “Court Philippe Chatrier” are full of life. Everything looks good, although I believe Top Spin still has slightly better graphics.
The sound in SCTPT2 is acceptable, but nothing more than that. I think the lack of music during games is positive, because you can easily loose focus when it’s turned on. I don’t recommend playing the music, because the sonds really aren’t that good anyway. On the other hand, the sound effects are very nicely done. The different moves sound realistic and the umpires’ comments really are great (on Roland Garros, everything is French, while on the US Open, you can hear the typically American accent).
Wrapping things up, I can really recommend Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament 2 to every tennis or sports fanatic. Even the “casual” gamer will enjoy this game a lot. The gameplay is excellent, the graphics look mighty fine and the sound isn’t bad. The official license is another reason for you to buy this game. Too bad not every top player is included.