With a wealth of content to explore, tight controls, and great visuals, Top Spin 4 is a fantastic tennis simulation that caters to pros and novices alike.
- In-depth online and offline career modes
- Realistic physics
- Responsive controls
- Great animation captures the feel of a live match
- Spot-on sound effects add to the drama.
- Optional Move controls aren't accurate enough to win championships
- Characters' faces sometimes look odd.
Not only does Top Spin 4 succeed at being one of the most accurate tennis simulations available, but its new training modes and shot assists make it accessible for newcomers to the sport too. Whether you're playing a simple exhibition match, shooting it out in a grand slam, or showcasing your skills in online tournaments, each and every match is full of the drama and thrilling spectacle that make tennis such an exciting sport. There's a heap of content to explore, with a deep career mode and an improved character leveling system that ensures your hard work never goes unrewarded, letting you compete in online matches with a player you can truly call your own.
Character customization lies at the heart of Top Spin 4, since your creations can be used in both online and offline modes. You choose the gender of your character, along with a number of attributes, including height, facial features, and clothing. There are also settings for tennis style and behavior, which change the animation of forehands, backhands, and serves. You can even select the type of grunt shouted during shots and the type of victory celebration at the end of a match--which is great if you want your character to throw down his racquet in disgust when losing a point or act nonchalant when winning a match.. If you're especially creative, you can use the advanced features editor to sculpt your character's face precisely using a number of control points, though it's fiddly to use and more often than not results in some scary-looking creations.
Once you've created a player, you're sent to the Top Spin Academy, which teaches you the basic controls. Face buttons perform flat, top spin, slice, and lob shots, while the triggers and shoulder buttons act as modifiers, allowing you to perform adventurous drop shots or dash to and from the net. By tapping a button, you perform a control shot, which is accurate but slow. Holding it down performs power shots, which are faster but are more likely to go out if you hold the button down too long. Meanwhile, the left analogue stick moves your player around the court and aims your shots. It's a lot to take in, but the tutorial gently guides you through each type of shot individually so you can master the basics quickly. It also teaches you about timing, which is critical during a match. If you press a shot button too early or too late, your shot might go out or lack power, making it easy for your opponent to return the ball.
While previous games in the series expected you to perfect timing based purely on your own intuition, Top Spin 4 introduces a number of on-court assists known as "helpers" that make connecting with the ball much easier. For timing, your shot is given a rating of perfect, good, too early, or too late, which is displayed over your character's head after you've hit the ball. Shots get a power meter so you know how hard you're hitting them, while a first bounce helper shows you where the ball is going to land when an opponent returns a shot. There's also a fatigue gauge that shows you how tired a player is getting, either from hitting power shots or from running around the court. You can use this to your advantage by hitting wider balls, which are much more difficult to return when your opponent is fatigued. If you're feeling confident, you can turn off the helpers.
Further tactics are taught in the advanced lessons of the Top Spin Academy, so you know exactly when to deploy a deft slice or catch your opponent off guard with a drop shot. You learn about the three fundamental play styles of tennis: the fast power shots of baseline offensive; the accurate control shots of baseline defensive that move your opponent around the court; and the quick plays of volley. Even if you're well versed in tennis, these tutorials are great for learning the many techniques that professionals use, helping you identify what kind of players you're up against and what moves to use against them. Mastering these techniques takes time, but with the addition of helpers, it's much easier than before. The controls are very accurate, and the physics are spot on, so you never feel like the game isn't responding to your actions, which makes each match a lot of fun to play.
If you're playing the game with a Move controller, then things are a little less accurate. You need a navigation controller or a pad to move your player, while your other hand swings the Move controller to launch shots. The angle of your swing dictates whether it's a flat, top spin, slice, or lob shot, while the speed of it controls the power of the shot. The triggers play a role too, performing drop shots and net dashes. The Move works to some extent, but it's often difficult to angle your swing correctly or move it at the correct speed to perform the desired shot. This is exacerbated by a less-than-helpful tutorial that explains the motions via a series of static pictures, where a video or interactive lesson would make things much clearer. It's fortunate, then, that the Move is optional, so at the very least you can give it a try and inevitably fall back on the more accurate standard controls.