Tennis is a game of great passion. Take infamous champion John McEnroe, for example. His temper tantrums were more legendary than his considerable playing skills. Barely a tournament went by without 'The Brat' - as he was known - wailing and whining and gnashing his teeth. Referees and linesmen were usually the target of his anger and had to endure being called half-blind drunken dumbasses. And when they ignored MacEnroe he'd smash his racquet and then sulk for the rest of the game. In other words, almost as bad as it feels to lose in Smash Court 2.
While Namco's simulation doesn't let you abuse the officials or destroy your racquet, it does capture the emotional roller coaster of the great game extremely well. The ebb and flow of tennis is a difficult thing to grasp. One moment you're in the zone - feeling superhuman, with lightning fast reflexes and the next you're a cack-handed moron who might as well be swinging a sopping wet kipper. Thankfully, the first time you play SCT2 you'll immediately feel welcomed by the seemingly simple arcade-style controls. At its most basic level the whole game can be played with just X and the analogue controller. But you'll soon realise the depth of control available. For example, when you get to grips with the incredibly sensitive analogue aiming control you'll be nailing targets the size of a pound coin with 180km/hr serves.
The Pro Tour mode is the real heart of the game, where you build your player from the shoes up and struggle to rise from the lowly position of 250th ranked player in the world to become number one. The RPG-style character building system is brilliantly implemented. You earn experience points for completing training exercises (hit the targets, fight off an attack of the killer ball machines, etc) and by entering competitions. These points are spent on improving aspects of your game and buying higher performance gear like sneakers and racquets.
A couple of things prevent SCT2 from being a true classic. Firstly, the menus can be unnecessarily confusing when arranging a four-player doubles match. However, what's worse is that many computers players (until you reach the top ranks) can be defeated in a similar serve-and-volley way. It's also a shame you can't dive for the ball as you could in Virtua Tennis 2, since this would increase your reach for difficult shots and pump up the excitement. However, Smash Court 2 is definitely the best-looking tennis game on PS2 and the learning curve is very forgiving. The visual enhancements also make it more emotionally appealing and mean it's a definite improvement over its prequel. So, this is quality stuff - and you can add 4% to the score below if you own a multi-tap and have three friends.
Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament 2 is out now on PS2