If you think about it, tennis video games are one of the longest, if not THE longest, running series in the history of the medium. Originating from Pong, there have been countless tennis and tennis-style games released over the last few decades. With this said, it means a lot to say that Top Spin 4 is one of the most solid, entertaining, and detailed tennis title to date.
Top Spin has always stood its ground in becoming a tennis sim as opposed to more arcadey style gameplay of the Virtua Tennis or Mario Tennis titles. And unlike the previous games in the series, Top Spin 4 has the most streamlined and comfortable control system. Instead of implementing complicated dual analog control, 2K decided it was best to stick with what works ? using the face buttons for each type of shot. While this system might sound like any other game, the developers created context sensitive shots according to the duration of each button press. Fear not, there is still the option to serve using the analog stick, but both formats just feel solidly right. My only complaint with the controls actually stems from the using the shoulder buttons to activate drop shots and inside-outs; it takes time to figure out.
Like any wrestling or UFC fighting game, Top Spin 4 helps generate the entire tennis atmosphere by presenting the game through locker room shots and even watching players walk onto the court to greet the crowd. It generates a sense of excitement and nervousness that only furthers the high presentation values, especially when the player advances to playing in large sold out stadiums.
Without question, Top Spin 4?s career mode is that deep as you can imagine. From creating your own player, to hiring coaches (which can increase your stats), to training, to being ranked online against the rest of the world, it is very easy to get lost when building your career. Just like a real tennis pro, juggling your time can be a challenge. Do you hit the courts to earn some XP, or do you participate in public appearances to earn you more fans? Earning superstar status is a constant balancing act that makes the player think in non-conventional ways for a tennis game. The icing on the cake is the fact that the game actually takes the time to explain each new feature as they become available, making this hardcore tennis sim become easier for rookies.
Even if you exhaust everything the AI has to offer, taking the game online is a direct extension of the career mode. In World Tour mode (which is available as free DLC), you literally take on the rest of the world for a chance to be ranked number one. Taking a note from games unrelated to a tennis title, like Halo Reach, everything you do both offline and online, rewards the player with experience points. This means that everything you do creates a sense of accomplishment. Online matches are also very fluid and showed no signs of lag.
As great as this game is, there are just a few smaller issues that hold it back. First, the tutorial, although detailed and well explained, takes a little too much time to get through all the lessons. Secondly, the player needs to download the World Tour mode and the create-a-character option; this would be most unfortunately for offline players. Further, the create-a-character option is not as specific as it could be. Instead of getting defining the intricate details of making a customized face, the player must choose from a few different choices. However, it is a nice touch to have the ability to select between the different service, swing, and idle animations. And if you want to get picky about it, the sound track loops a little too often, some background environments start to repeat especially when playing through the tutorial, and lack of voice overs seem strangely absent. I also wish that the ball boys in the background actually did something instead of having the ball pass right through them; for a game that prides itself on realism, this is an overlooked detail. But since the gameplay is highly polished, these issues are not as prominent.
It is not that Top Spin 4 revolutionizes the tennis game genre, it just provides a comfortable control scheme, an extremely robust career mode, and a presentation that has yet to be matched in a tennis title. The game?s difficulty might be a little easy, especially when first starting out, but this also aligns with the player?s newness to the control scheme. Considering that you can take on historical real-life pros both past and present, participate to become the best in the world through online matches, and a detailed RPG-like leveling system that provides a consistent sense of accomplishment, 2K will have you cheering on center court.
Better Than: previous Top Spin games
Also Try: Super Tennis (SNES)
Wait For It: Virtua Tennis 4
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