The one common facet among all good tennis games is 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 in the history of gaming; arguably starting with Pong, but 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. Now we have a new kid on the block, Top Spin Tennis, to add to this list with its solid controls.
The best way to create a realistic and user-friendly style of play is to assign each type of tennis shot to a face button on the controller. For example,Mario Tennis on N64 used a ridiculous control scheme for all the hitting 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. In contrast the superior controls ofTop Spin Tennis assign each type of shot to a specific face button so any shot can be executed easily.
The face buttons perform topspin shots, lobs, flat shots, and drop shots, but, the trigger buttons add spice to the game play. If a trigger button is pulled, a small, meter appears above the player’s head. If this meter is stopped at the proper time (via a well placed trigger tap), 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 takes a while 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 necessary, it’s a nice extra that can be used to visually brag to your friends.
Top Spin Tennis 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 such as; hairstyle, height, weight, facial features, and style of game. After some tweaking, your character will be ready to go for number one ranking.
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. 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 set the bar for tennis mini games way back on the Dreamcast, and more variety is definitely needed for Top Spin Tennis to even come close.
While playing, each shot is easy to use, except for returning a lob. In my experience, the task is almost impossible. If your opponent lobs one over your head, your character will probably miss the smash, and 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. This frustrating detail detracts from game play significantly.
Another thing that bothered me was the incredible load time. Whenever you go to a new screen, you have to wait for what seems like a minute. It’s insane. Even when you hit Start to view your status on the World Map, it takes a ridiculously long time. The developers seemed to have noticed this, because they posted helpful screen tips on how to improve your game. However, there are only about three tips so expect some repetitive reading.
The graphics at least are Xbox quality. 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. However, 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, but 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. Managing 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.