Top Spin 2 Review
Top Spin 2 has no ambition to redefine how tennis games are played. It just delivers a responsive and well-rounded tennis game that shouldn't be missed by fans.
- Fun, responsive gameplay
- Engaging and varied career mode
- Lots of great, subtle detail in the sound design
- Maria Sharapova
- Surprisingly deep player creation.
- Menus plagued by the same three, generic tunes
- Facial features can be eerie
- Less-than-optimal camera angles.
Following a slapdash PlayStation 2 port of Top Spin last year, PAM Development has gotten its tennis game back in order with Top Spin 2 for the Xbox 360. Top Spin 2 offers little that hasn't been seen in other tennis games--the original Top Spin included--but the gameplay has been sharpened to create an experience that expertly balances technicality and quick, accessible fun. Add to that a first-rate presentation and some solid solo and multiplayer offerings, and you've got a package that any tennis fan would be foolish to pass up.
Top Spin has always offered a slightly more technical game of tennis than Sega's standard-bearing Virtua Tennis franchise, though it's still quite easy to pick up. The four face buttons correspond to the four basic swings you'll use. The A button triggers the safe swing, which is your most straightforward swing. It's often your go-to swing, because no matter how hard you tilt the left analog stick while stepping up to your swing, the shot will never, ever go out of bounds, while the other three shot types require a bit more finesse to keep inside the lines. The X button nets you a slice shot, which flies low and fast and is great for crossing up your opponent, while the B button delivers a topspin shot that flies straight and bounces high but moves fast and can slip right past opponents who aren't on their toes. The Y button is used for lob shots, which are to be used sparingly but can be very potent against aggressive opponents apt to ride the net.
While the four basic shot types can be used at any time, there are eight additional swings that require some portion of your momentum meter. Momentum is gained and lost naturally as you score points and are scored on over the course of a game and can be used for either risk shots, which take up big chunks of your momentum, or advanced shots, which eat up a more modest amount of momentum. The advanced shots are high-powered versions of your standard swings, and you can access them by holding down the left shoulder trigger before you start your swing.
Risk shots are even more powerful, but as the name suggests, they're rather risky, too. Holding down the right shoulder trigger before you start a swing will bring up a rising power meter, which you need to stop right at the top. If your timing is off, you'll botch the shot and likely give your opponent the upper hand. If you nail it, the ball moves hard and fast and can be difficult to recover from. As potent as they can be, though, risk shots are usually worth taking only during your first serve, when you have a free pass to hit the net. Otherwise, the stakes are too high, and it's prohibitively difficult to keep an eye on the meter and your opponent while also keeping your player in motion in the middle of the match. While the risk shots still don't have an optimal risk-to-reward ratio, they've been refined a bit since the first Top Spin, and they don't have any ill effect on the rest of the gameplay, which is consistently responsive and, thanks to some aggressive and skilled artificial intelligence, regularly quite intense.
Digesting all of the tennis jargon in Top Spin 2 can be a bit much if you don't know the sport, and hopping right into the game's exhibition or tournament modes may give you a bit of a rocky start. It's best, then, that you go into the game's career mode, which does a fine job of casually acclimating you to the nuances of the gameplay as you play. Before you start mastering your smokin'-fast ace serves and humiliating dump shots, though, you'll have to create your own custom tennis pro.
In addition to basics like gender, age, and nationality, the character creation system in Top Spin 2 gives you rather impressive control over the facial features and physical build of your player and is almost comparable to the character creation system found in 2K Games' The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion--though, as far as we could tell, there was no option to create a crazy magic-adept lizard-man tennis pro in Top Spin 2. Maybe next year! There's kind of an "uncanny valley" thing going on with the facial features. The skin tone often has a flat, mannequin-like sheen to it, but the player models still feature a good amount of realistic detail. Most impressive, though, is the animation. While a few of the transitions can be a touch abrupt, most player movement is incredibly smooth and believable. A lot of the impressive stuff in Top Spin 2 is subtle, like the way players shift their center of gravity after planting their feet and winding up for a swing, but it's the kind of detail that sells the experience without your knowing it.
Once you've created your player and dolled them up in some appropriately fresh gear from major tennis apparel companies like Adidas, Nike, Wilson, and Lacoste, you'll start your career at the bottom of the barrel with a rank of 200 and a low-level sponsorship. Your goals over the course of your career are to build up your player's skills, increase their rank, and rake in an obscene amount of coin. Time in the game progresses a week at a time, and each week has room for one training event, one tournament event, and one special event. The training events should be your primary concern when you first start off--you won't qualify for most of the tournaments when you first start anyways, and even if you did, the competition will more than likely eat you alive.
Training is handled much the same as in the original Top Spin, and in the Virtua Tennis games before that, turning the tennis court into the stage for a series of skill-building minigames. Sometimes your task is as simple as hitting specific spots on the court a number of times, but more often than not, you'll be hitting balls into rows of giant dominoes, bowling balls, gigantic tennis balls, and towering walls made out of translucent bricks. The variety of training games you'll encounter over the course of your career has increased since the first Top Spin, and it's a change that helps make the career mode here much more compelling--while training has been a little tedious in the past, the variety and the novelty of the minigames here makes training something to look forward to. Successfully completing a training event nets you stars that you can apply to up to three of the eleven different attributes, techniques, and skills that define your player's performance.