Genre : Sports
Release Date: June 8, 2004
Besides having one of the longest names I've ever seen slapped on the front of a DVD case, Namco's Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament 2 is a damned good tennis game. While Sega's tennis games still have the crown in my eyes, Namco's effort should not be shrugged off as completely inferior to Sega Sports Tennis, though it isn't as good an overall package.
Pro Tournament 2 has a slew of new features added that make it a worthy sequel to a sports game, something that's becoming a bit rare these days. On the cosmetic side of things, the framerate is more stable, and the character models are sharper and more detailed, looking much more like the 16 pro-tennis players they represent than before. The courts look better too, with the grass courts sticking out especially well, as they aren't just a muddy looking green instead of a flat surface texture.
The most important tweaks are to the controls. Shot control has been greatly improved with a renewed focus on the usage of analog control. Serves can be given minute adjustments, making aces possible for better players. Other shot control additions are the flat shot and the drop shot. If your opponent manages to stretch your game with successive difficult returned volleys, you can hold down R1 to charge forward at the ball. Against a human player, these new features really shine, as you never know how they will counter your actions. Pro Tournament 2 is definitely one of the deeper tennis experiences available. The problems with the game start to appear from this end of things. Player animations generally have to finish their course before another action can be taken, giving the game a more realistic feel, but sacrificing accessibility and a bit of fun in the process, a la Splinter Cell. If you want to intercept a shot, you'll have to plan your moves in advance. At first this is daunting, but it becomes intuitive after some time is spent with the game. A major flaw with this system is that the animations can be perverted to bend toward a players bidding once they've managed to learn all of the quirks in the programming.
Speaking of quirks, the game does have a major flaw that needs to be ironed out: sometimes if you want to swing to your right, the game will inexplicably pick the wrong animation and swing in the opposite direction. This flaw does not appear constantly, but it does show its ugly face often enough that I'm sure Namco noticed it and sat on their hands instead of doing anything about it.
One problem inherent to most tennis games that Pro Tournament 2 also suffers from is depth perception. Placing the ball is a difficult task at times, as a high shot that your player can't reach might not look all that different from a lower shot that will cost you a point if you decide to ignore it. Some sort of visual indicators would have been nice here.
The game modes are what would be expected from a sports game: Arcade Mode for quick single player games, Exhibition Mode for single and multiplayer games, Tutorial Mode for learning the ways of the game, Challenge Mode for the chance to overcome specific goals, and Pro Tour, where you create a tennis player from scratch and try to make your way towards becoming the top ranked tennis player in the world. This game is very straightforward and doesn't play around with any out of place RPG elements or anything of that sort – it's all about tennis, and tennis is what you will get. The problem that will arise with this is that tennis is a fairly repetitive sport, and so is this game; once you've played a certain amount, you might not feel the urge to touch the game again for a long time.
Smash Court Pro Tennis Pro Tournament 2 is a giant leap ahead of its predecessor. It looks and feels much better than the original. In an industry where minor roster updates and small graphical brush-ups equal million selling sequels, the new Smash Court is a welcome upgrade, and a sorely needed one, at that. Still, there are problems that need to be fixed, mainly the slightly buggy and exploitable animations and the depth perception issues. As a matter of taste, I also think the realism should be toned down just a little bit. This is a video game, after all – and because of Sega's choice to keep the electronic medium firmly in mind, their tennis game is undoubtedly better than Namco's latest contender.