Ahhhh, the Playstation era of tennis games. What a truly, truly awful era that was. A tumultuous mish-mash of shoddy 3D wannabes where characters moved so slowly you could only just about hit the ball – providing you pressed the buttons before you put your hands into treacle – or poorly crafted 2D games which NOBODY WANTED because by this point, these games were only available on the SNES and were usually only decent on the SNES.
This isn’t the SNES. This is 1999. The SNES was long since gone by this point. 3D games were de-rigueur (which might as well be French for ugly as opposed to fashionable considering what those old games used to look like sometimes. ‘Ooh, we learned how to put a cube on top of a cube and now our characters are called Cubey and Cuboidy A BILLION COPIES FOR YOU!’ – seriously, don’t. Just… don’t…) and anyone worth their salt was producing games that weren’t tennis games because who even likes tennis?
WELL I DO. I BLOODY WELL DO. I WANT DECENT, FUN TENNIS GAMES THAT DON’T MAKE ME HOWL AT THE SCREEN, THROW CONTROLLERS AND WANT TO PUNCH A GOLDFISH IN THE EYE.
This is why Namco gave me this game. Just for me. JUST FOR ME.
So here’s the 411 on the lowdown with what this game is about and shit.
It’s a tennis game.
You play tennis.
Florals in springtime. Groundbreaking.
And yes, I did just throw in a Devil Wears Prada reference into a review about a tennis game. Shut up.
I don’t know what you’re all expecting but I was expecting a full-on story mode involving the trials and tribulations of being Anna Kournikova in an era of tennis where the media surrounding the game was built on her hype and sex appeal and very few people actually knew of many other players because everyone focussed on her all of the time. There were a great deal of decent players in the women’s game at the same time as her but can you remember most of THEIR names? No? Good job, media. You did your job fantastically well promoting the game to the masses.
OK, before I go any further, I am not ranting about Anna Kournikova at all. If anything, she was a damn fine player at the time and she managed to reach a Grand Slam semi-final, win some doubles Grand Slams and climb as high as number 8 in the world. That’s a damn sight higher than I could have gotten OR YOU (unless you’re reading this and you did manage to go higher than that but why are you reading this? I mean I love you if you are, but… why?) and all of this negative attention she received for not winning a singles title is bullshit because there are plenty of decent players out there who have never won a title. And besides, I’m fairly sure she’s laughing it all up in her mansion doing whatever it is she loves. She doesn’t give a shit. Good on her. Go do your thing, Anna. ANYWAY.
So there’s no story. I suppose the story is about your fledgling career from the bottom of the rankings to the top of the rankings so that will have to do.
OK, before I go any further, can anyone spot the major problem with this court? It’s not the fact that it’s in the middle of Times Square or the fact that that’s not an official tournament surface or there are people who could literally just wander into the middle of the court and steal a ball or there’s no umpire or ballkids and it’s all INCREDIBLY dangerous…
Look at the shape of that court.
It doesn’t look right. It looks… too short and too wide. It kinda messes with the perspective of things a bit. It means that serious tennis game fans, which apparently are real, don’t quite get the experience they want to.
But then again, if you’re playing a game that looks as quirky and cartoony as this and wanting a serious tennis simulation then you might need to sort of your priorities or make that game yourself because you’re screwed if you think that that’s this game. You want a serious tennis sim, you basically had the golden syrup brigade of crap that the Playstation era had or you had these kinds of fun games that actually worked and didn’t actually play like arse. Seriously, by this point in the system’s life-cycle, you’d have thought a decent enough 3D tennis game had come out but they were all so intent on being ‘simulations’ that they forgot that games are supposed to be fun.
Remember that, developers? FUN? It’s that thing that games are supposed to be. So the ball lands with pinpoint accuracy, it’s just a shame I had to go through nine tutorials to learn how to move on the court or wrestled with the controller so that the racquet connected with the ball in some way shape or form
Smash Court Tennis itself was an extension of the SNES-era games of a similar name and those games were basically the most fun you could get out of tennis games. They were simple to pick up and actually quite simple to master too. You had your standard shot, your strong shot and your MEGA-BLAST HIT THROUGH YOUR OPPONENT’S SKULL SHOT that needed bit of a wind-up. You had time these carefully and try not to spray balls off the court either. They would either be spectacular shots or you’d end up slapping an easy ball into the net for the sake of ‘looking flashy’ – a criminal offence in tennis because no one is Mansour Bahrami and Mansour Bahrami for the uninitiated is the GREATEST TENNIS PLAYER TO NOT ALLOWED TO BE A PROPER TENNIS PLAYER EVER.
Seriously. Google him. He’s amazing.
Being a sort of pseudo-sequel to the Smash Tennis series, the graphics are actually nothing special. They’re simple and cartoony, which adds to the appeal somewhat charmingly, and the backgrounds are all pre-rendered. They don’t move, save for a couple of tiny things here and there, but there are plenty of different courts to choose from. Outside of the four major tournaments (Australia, France, Britain and the US), you have theme parks, an aquarium, Times Square, a temple and Westminster.
Basically all the places you ALWAYS play tennis. Because why not?
Actually, why not? This game tried something different. You still got your proper courts but let’s have a bit of fun and shove in some weird courts! Let’s go tennis at the Great Barrier Reef! Or the Milano Galleria! BECAUSE WHY NOT?
Perhaps unusually for a tennis game, you can have music playing in the background. What’s impressive is that none of the music gets in the way of the game itself and doesn’t sound out of place. It’s mostly quite chilled out and it’s not thumping basslines IN YOUR FACE (or ears) to distract you. You can turn it off if you want, of course, but sometimes the lack of music is more distracting. I mean it’s your choice. I ain’t your muvva.
So Anna Kournikova’s likeness was shoved into this game as she was, as mentioned before, a big draw for tennis fans at the time and to be honest, they kinda did quite well on that one. It didn’t sell badly, it harboured a sequel and then was thrust into the PS2 era with what was a definite rival for the Virtua Tennis series at the time. Aside from the sex appeal of Anna Kournikova adoring the box, there was one other major factor that made this game great: it was fucking INCREDIBLE as a multiplayer experience. It was generally speaking a bloody fun title anyway but get your mates and a multitap out and you had the party. You had THE party. This was a game I could play with my brother. He was as good as I was but I usually won because I like tennis more than him and I ought to, and we did have some friends who could play alongside us in doubles matches. It made the experience much more interesting because you’d sorta go into tennis mode: high-fiving good shots, celebrating and whooping good gets at the nets and lamenting the missed shots because the game rather unfairly tipped balls out of the court randomly unless you had a character who was way too shit to play as.
Yeah, you could never tell who was a decent player or not although the more obviously dressed tennis players tended to be better than the ones looking all happy, dressed in jogging bottoms and neon tops. The all-white Wimbledon contingent were the better players and bloody hell, didn’t you know it? Playing against those bastards initially was as tough as balls because it was like ‘HA HA HA FUCK YOU, THIS GAME ISN’T ALL NICE AND SHINY, I’LL HIT THE BIG SHOT WHEN I WANT TO AND IT WILL ALWAYS GO IN HA HA HA’ as opposed to ‘Oh, OK, let’s be nice to you…’ because there’s NO DIFFICULTY SETTINGS and the shit players are always shit and you can EASILY win all of your service games by auto-serving so quickly, it becomes a formality. The decent players don’t fall for this. They’re ready from the off and you’ll find yourself having winners flashed past you at every opportunities because covering the net is UTTERLY POINTLESS when you can’t reach very far with those spindly cartoon sticks you call arms, you creepy, cod-3D bastards.
And there’s Pacman.
No seriously, Pacman is a secret character. Because Namco. And Heihachi from Tekken. And the woman who was on the front cover of Ridge Racer 3 or 4 or whichever one was Orange. Reiko Nagase. That was her name. I think she’s a real person. I can’t really remember. I didn’t care much for Ridge Racer. Wasn’t the third one the grey one? Or was that Rage Racer? Surely Rage Racer should have been red. I’M GETTING OFF TOPIC. Bloody Namco cameos.
In no uncertain terms, this is not a serious game but it can GET serious when you’re one-on-one or two-on-two because jeez, if you don’t think multiplayer is a competitive sport, you might as well go home right now. I’m fairly sure you’re at home right now but you might as well stay there but go even more HOME than ever. This was one of the last of its kind on the PS1 before tennis games actually got reasonably good on the PS2. We did at least get Virtua Tennis 2, Smash Court 2 and Slam Tennis, despite not getting much else that was actually worthy of your time on that system. In terms of the PS1, you were lucky to even get this. Particularly when this game was purely made for me STOP PLAYING MY GAME YOU BASTARDS THIS IS ALL MINE AND MINE ALONE BOOOOOOO.
Now CLICK HERE FOR ANNA KOURNIKOVA PICTURES!
Don’t. Just… don’t.