Version tested: PSP
Smash Court Tennis 3
- Publisher: Sony
- Developer: Namco
Just like all the other tennis games on the market, Smash Court Tennis 3 features the likenesses of various real-life tennis players such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, or Maria Sharapova and Martina Hingis. Just like all the other tennis games, Smash Court Tennis 3 has got all the modes: arcade, pro tour, exhibition, challenge, and ad hoc multiplayer. And just like all the other tennis games, it's pretty decent. The characters are all pretty convincing. The game's technical presentation is first rate throughout, with various tennis courts, from skyscraper rooftops to palm beaches and English castles, all beautifully realised. There are some quirky mini-games, based on Pac-Man and Galaxians. And there's a pretty cool character creation and career mode.
So when it comes to distinguishing the game from all the other tennis games out there, it boils down, as you might expect, to the tennis, and that's where it comes off second best. Which is weird, because on first reflection, you might think that adding in a greater range of shots would be a good thing. It's just that next to the virtuosity of Virtua Tennis it all feels a bit over-complicated carrying them out. Instead of determining your shot by an open-ended system of position and timing, Smash Court Tennis adds a layer of predefined shots on top of that. While that increases the realism and tactical range in some respects, in other respects it makes the game feel much more stilted and, ultimately, less convincing than Sega's masterpiece. It also requires an insanely long series of tutorial lessons, some of which are surprisingly tough.
In the end, it's certainly decent enough, but it's not good enough to unseat Virtua Tennis from its position as the best game of tennis on the PSP.
The History Channel: Great Battles of Rome
- Publisher: Black Bean Games/The History Channel
- Developer: Slitherine Software/Atomic Planet
As you might surmise from the title, The History Channel: Great Battles of Rome is an attempt to straddle education and entertainment. It's a pretty straightforward realtime strategy game, punctuated, every so often, by semi-informative cut-scenes that are full of moody voiceovers, lots of close-ups of maps, dramatic angled footage of ancient architecture, and melodramatic re-enacments (or 'historical footage' as the press release would have it). None of them ever really tell you anything you didn't know, unless you didn't know anything about Roman history, but they're entertaining enough.
As for the actual entertainment part of the equation, that sees you start out by enforcing Rome's enlightened approach to government on some unruly farmers, before going on, if you've got the patience, to fight over 100 battles across three campaigns. Between battles you recruit, upgrade, and equip your troops. Before battles you position your troops on the battlefield and use a pretty clumsy menu to issue them with orders (like, Outflank, Envelop, Advance and Charge and so on). Then, during battles, you sit and watch. Specifically you watch your units quite happily sit and do nothing, even if their allies are being attacked. You can take direct control of your units, but only one at a time, and doing so switches off their AI so you'll need to keep controlling them, one at a time. And they're difficult to control, too. It's pretty laborious, and it would make the game more difficult if it weren't for the fact that the game is so easy.
Whatever orders you give your men, whatever terrain you deploy them across, none of it seems to matter. So the game ends up falling somewhere in the middle: it's not quite educational enough, nor entertaining enough. You'd be better off with a good history book, and a better strategy game.
World of Pool
World of Pool really does try to fit the whole world of pool in. It's got a hefty range of game types, including snooker and billiards, as well as 9-ball pool, UK and US 8-ball, and even pub rules. It's got a practice mode, arcade mode, exhibition matches and tournaments, and even, in a bid to capture the sleazy glamour of the pool circuit, a section where you can kit out your 'crib'. The real substance of the game is to be found in the World Tour mode, however, which is where you create a character, picking out his appearance, and working your way through tournaments and matches to unlock new bits and bobs for your crib.
Where the game really falls down is on the baize. Fundamentally, the pool itself - and the snooker, and the billiards - is so badly implemented that the game is no fun to play. Aiming is squirrelly and over-sensitive. It's difficult to aim where you want to because a tiny nudge on the analog nub will send your aim careering wildly across the table. A simple corner pot will see you desperately trying to line it up without overshooting, but failing miserably and having to start again from the other side. If it's a long pot, it'll also be a struggle just to see where you're aiming because the camera will do its best to give you the crappiest view of proceedings - including an overhead view that reduces the balls to pinpricks.
Judging the weight of your shots is just as bafflingly oversensitive, and you'll spend ages trying to caress the nub back to generate a moderate amount of power before you'll inevitably give up and subject yourself to its haphazard waywardness. Frankly, it doesn't feel finished, and no amount of furniture in your crib is enough to compensate.
- Publisher: Ghostlight
- Developer: Icon Games
Take Super Monkey Ball and remove the monkeys. Replace the cutesy cheer with generic sci-fi stylings. Throw in a bit of damage to your now monkey-less ball whenever it hits something. Chuck in a few overcomplicated, convoluted mazes that lack the crisp polish and simple but challenging charms of Monkey Ball. Make these mazes difficult to navigate because of the rubbish camera controls. Voila. You're now left with Spinout. It's a game in which you steer a ball around successive mazes, trying not to fall off the edge or hit too many obstacles.
To reiterate: you steer a ball. Unlike Super Monkey Ball, in Spinout you control the ball and not the maze. You control that ball across an arcade mode that features an OutRun-style forking path, or a career mode that sees you completing batches of races to unlock further batches. In addition to those two main modes there's also a time trial mode, three multiplayer games and a disappointing bowling mini-game. Instead of aiming from a static position and determining the power of your throw before applying aftertouch, which is what you do in just about every other bowling game ever, Spinout's bowling sees you launch yourself down a ramp and hope you hit the pins. The steering and aiming are consequently less precise and the game feels more random.
And that sums up Spinout. By controlling the ball and not the maze, the game is instantly rendered much less interesting than Super Monkey Ball. It gets rid of the feather-light nuance of Super Monkey Ball's control system, and replaces it with a more clumsy and conventional platform game mechanic. That's fine, as far as it goes, it's just it never really feels like it goes far enough.