Centre Court Tennis
Forget deathmatch Turok - how about a quick game of tennis?
It's surprising that nobody's done a tennis game for the N64 already. After all, one of the very first videogames (Pong) was a sort of tennis game, and with at most four people on the court at once it should be easier to simulate than football. On the other hand, tennis is the sort of sport that doesn't go down terribly well with the Mortal Kombat generation, so maybe it's not all that surprising.
Hudson's Let's Smash looked, at least to the office's PlayStation contingent, an awful lot like Namco's Smash Court Tennis, a sequel of sorts to the fantastic SNES Smash Tennis. Same cutesy anime-style players, same lift muzak chirping away in the background, same easy-to-use controls. You might almost think that Hudson had been looking at Namco's games for inspiration. Surely not!
Let's Smash keeps things simple in order to get the game flowing. There are basically only two strokes, a pass and a lob, with tricky backhand/forehand decisions made for you. There's also a high-speed smash, but the timing on this is so tricky to pull off you practically need to be Pete Sampras to do it.
This might not sound like a recipe for a long-lasting game, but actually it works really well. All you have to do is get your player into the general area of the incoming ball Gts landing point is shown by a small marker) and hit the button to return the volley. It's trickier than it sounds - not only does the timing have to be right, but the way to win is to use the analogue stick to put spin on the ball and direct it away from your opponent. Watching another player stumble around in a desperate attempt to keep up is great fun, though it's not so hilarious if it happens to you!
There's a practice option where you can get to grips with the controls, but it doesn't take long before you get good enough to take on the world. The computer players make quite a good play, but like many N64 games, Let's Smash gets better with more people playing. A full doubles match with four people might not get you sweating like power weapons in the Stack, but it still brings out the competitive spirit. Also, if your partner makes a stupid mistake that costs you the game, you can smack them around the head with your racquet!
Let's Smash has plenty to keep you coming back, like the international tournaments and the player creation option. It might be a bit on the cute side for some people - while the physics of the ball is believable enough, it's not a 'realistic' game by any stretch - but it's a whole lot of fun, especially with several players. The N64's future isn't overloaded with tennis games, but if any do arrive, they'll find it hard to beat this.
2nd rating opinion
And they call me 90% Kimber! I have to say though, that this game is tremendously good fun! The characters are extremely responsive, making proper rallies no problem, and the little details, like the ability to hit your partner with your raquet, really add to it. Ace!
Download Centre Court Tennis
Tennis Finally Arrives On The N64
Let's Smash isn't a Namco game but, it is strangely reminiscent of their effort. The players might be slightly less podgy but the 'floaty' feel of play - where the ball seems to take an age to reach the other end of the court - remains.
However, where Smash Tennis made use of every inch of tennis' fair old quota of skills. Let's Smash is much more limited. In fact, there's just the two types of shot the 'normal' one and the lob. Mmm.
The 'normal' one can be varied in speed, though, and. with a quick twitch of the analogue stick, direction too. So, you can spud it down the line or across the court at your own choosing. Or, randomly (and when the CPU decides to allow you), you can smash it at your opponent which, as well as being accompanied by a rainbow-coloured trail, knocks them to the floor. In reply, and by pressing the Right shoulder, they can make an. er. 'sign'.
The lob is a tad less exciting. When you catch it right, the ball arcs gracefully over your opponent and onwards for the point. When you don't, you could still find yourself edging ahead. See. judging the 'fall' of the lob is a nightmare, even for the normally reliable CPU players. All you can do in response - as well as flapping helplessly - is try to time your return as best you can. More often than not, you'll play and miss. But sometimes, you know...
This obvious lack of shot-playing variety severely limits an otherwise fairly enjoyable game. Too many common-or-garden tennis strokes - top spins, volleys and, most strangely of all, smashes - aren't even in here. Or rather they are, but the CPU seems to decide for you where and when you can pull them off. All you have to do is tap A and B and hope for the best. Oh, and balls returned close to the net never ever manage to j-u-s-t skim over so, as a general rule, only ever try to return shots that are travelling at roughly the speed of sound.
Additionally, when you try to choose the direction of your 'normal' shot, or lob. there are some frustrating problems. By selecting, say. left, you'd be well within your rights to expect the ball to head in that direction. Not necessarily so. See. it's really difficult in Let's Smash to play shots in the directions you want... and the reason is this: the controls simply aren't responsive enough. No matter how far across the pad you're pushing the analogue stick, your shots seem to struggle to move anywhere but the middle third of the court.
As a result, it's hideously tricky to play winning strokes. When your opponent is committed to the left side of the court, and you try to direct your return to the right, the ball doesn't necessarily follow suit, meaning you all-too-frequently sacrifice what should have been a point your way. Sometimes you can be lucky and, as explained earlier, your opponent can fluff his attempted return. But, it's more likely that your opponent'll slam the ball back from whence it came. And win.
Whether or not you should drop your local importer a line depends entirely on this, then: how much do you want a tennis game? If the answer's 'a lot', then Let's Smash would be worth a dabble. It's good fun, particularly in four-player mode, regardless of its obvious faults. Those others who like a bit of tennis but aren't quite as infatuated, should wait for next year's All Star Tennis or - maybe, just maybe - a Namco effort. Fingers crossed, eh?