The one common facet among all good tennis games is high quality play control. Top Spin Tennis delivers just that, making it one of the better tennis games in recent history.
Even though there have been a number of tennis games that have been released since the history of gaming, arguably starting with Pong, only a few will probably stand out in your mind. These games are Mario Tennis (N64 and GBC), Virtua Tennis (Dreamcast), and maybe even Super Tennis on SNES. Top Spin Tennis is now added to this list as it contains very solid play control.
The best way to create a realistic and easy to use style of play is to assign each type of tennis shot to a face button on the controller. Mario Tennis on N64 used a ridiculous control scheme for all the different types of shots. Even though the N64 controller had six face buttons, Mario Tennis used only two to create every type of shot. Button combinations along with proper timing were the only way to hit a topspin, drop, or lob shot. Top Spin Tennis assigns each type of shot to a specific face button so any shot can be executed easily.
The face buttons are assigned to perform topspin shots, lobs, flat shots, and drop shots. Besides the easy to use face button shots, the trigger buttons are used to spice up the game play. If a trigger button is pulled, a small, fast-moving meter appears above the player’s head. This meter is stopped when the trigger button is released. If this meter is stopped at the proper time, then a powerful shot will probably land somewhere in the court. However, if this meter is not centered, then your shot will fly way out of bounds. This hit or miss power meter is great way to quickly turn the tide of any game because it is a risky shot that will take a very long time to master.
After a point, the player can even perform a celebratory action or spit in disgust. This will affect your ITZ (In The Zone) meter. During the match, your player will perform better if he or she is in a groove. Stringing together numerous winners will increase your ITZ meter, causing you play to get even better. After each point, the player can celebrate or get angry by pressing the Black or White buttons. While this isn’t really a big deal, it is a nice extra that can be used to visually brag to your friends.
This game supports up to four players simultaneously during doubles matches. You can also play with your friends via Xbox Live as tournaments and free matches are available. This game also supports LAN, but I am not sure why since every character is on the screen at one time.
There are two main modes of play. First is the regular exhibition match and second is a Career mode. Career mode has a fairly deep create-a-player. Players start by selecting a strand of DNA that will give your player a general look. Then players can adjust many things like their hairstyle, height, weight, facial features, and style of game. After some tweaking, your character will be ready to try to achieve the number one rank.
While in Career mode, players can participate in tournaments to increase their worldwide rank, or play a few mini games to increase your stats. The tournament mode is straight forward, but the mini games are a little lacking. They are nowhere near as creative as those found in Virtua Tennis. No matter what you increase, each game will have you returning balls inside of colored boxes. These games are very simple, repetitive, and ultimately, boring. Virtua Tennis’s set the bar for tennis mini games and more variety is definitely needed in Top Spin Tennis.
While playing, each shot is easy to use, except for returning a lob. In my experience, it is almost impossible to return a lob. If your opponent lobs one over your head, your character will probably miss the smash. After he misses, your character freezes and just gives up. Since he freezes in place, there is no way to hit this slow moving ball. The lob system is completely made of crap and needs to be totally redone.
Another thing that bothered me were the incredible load times. Whenever you go to a new screen, you have to wait for a 60 second load. It is insane. Even when you hit Start to view your status on the World Map it takes a ridiculously long time to load. The developers probably knew this because they posted simple load screen tips on how to improve your game. However, there are only about three tips so expect to read the same information over and over.
The graphics are Xbox quality. All the character models and backgrounds look great. I was really pleased to see my foot marks remain for an entire match on a clay court. These small details make this a truly realistic tennis game. As far as audio goes, there really isn’t any. A narrator will introduce the players before the match, you will hear the ball being hit, and there is no music. It seems almost unfair to rate this game in the audio department because there are so few sound effects and musical scores.
Top Spin Tennis is a game that has some pretty solid controls, but the lack of mini games and music will leave players a little empty. Controlling your character could not be easier thanks to each type of shot being assigned to a face button on the controller, but the lob system is made from last week’s garbage. The level of detail in your create-a-player is highly advanced and the graphical value is standard for an Xbox game. Top Spin Tennis can be played online against your friends through Xbox Live or via LAN. The load times are painfully long and player is forced to read the same three stupid load time facts over and over. The game does feature a few big name tennis players, but most people will not be able to recognize the vast majority of the players available. However, it doesn’t matter that much as you’ll probably wind up creating your own player. Despite a few shortcomings, Top Spin Tennis is still one of the best tennis games released in the past couple years, but it will surely get better if sequels are made.