Top Spin Review
Top Spin is, quite simply, the most well-rounded, feature-rich game of tennis to be found anywhere, on any system.
Ever since Sega brought tennis to the video gaming masses with Virtua Tennis, there have been many imitators, but none have been able to match the quality of that game--until now. Power and Magic Developments, a European development house whose previous experience lies mainly in soccer games, has teamed up with Microsoft to create Top Spin. Top Spin is, quite simply, the most well-rounded, feature-rich game of tennis to be found anywhere, on any system. Virtua Tennis players who have been clutching their Dreamcasts for the past few years can now safely let go, as a suitable replacement has finally arrived.
As a product of the post-Virtua Tennis world, Top Spin gives you all the different groundstrokes you would expect, including devastating forehands (regular, inside-out, and running), blazing backhands (both one- and two-handed), half-swing volleys, volleys, half-volleys, drop shots, and offensive and defensive lobs. All groundstrokes feature realistic spins as well, including top, under (back), and even side. Serves can be of the flat, slice, and kick variety, and all utilize the familiar rising power meter. Each stroke and serve has its own strategic uses, and the gameplay, in general, is very smooth and responsive, rewarding skill and precision. In addition to these real-world strokes, Top Spin introduces the risk shot. Pulling the right trigger activates the risk shot meter, which oscillates up and down rapidly, and letting go of the trigger stops the cursor. The closer to the center of the meter you get the cursor, the more powerful and accurate the shot. Though if you land too close to the edges, the shot is likely to fly wildly out of control. The speed of the risk meter is directly proportionate to how full your "in the zone" meter is, which increases as you make winning shots. So, the better you're doing in the match, the more likely you are to pull off a successful risk shot.
The whole risk shot system is a nice, arcade-inspired addition to the gameplay in Top Spin, which is already quite accessible, though it's not at the expense of responsiveness or versatility. Fans of Virtua Tennis will have no trouble picking it up but may be surprised by some of the subtle nuances Top Spin also contains, such as the significant differences between playing on grass or clay courts, which force you to compensate for the differences in shoe grip and ball bounce. The game is accessible, but these small touches simply bring some added depth and realism.
Whether you're all alone or with a group of friends, Top Spin offers enough modes of play to keep you satisfied. If you're looking for a one-off match, there's the exhibition mode, or if you want an elimination-style competition, there's the custom tournament mode. Both of these modes allow you to customize the gender of the players. You can also decide whether it's a doubles or singles match, the number of games per set, the number of sets per match, and the skill of the computer opponents. And both of these modes can be played with up to four players.
If you're looking for a strictly single-player experience, the career mode allows you to create your own custom tennis pro to travel the world, play in tournaments, earn sponsorships, and hone skills. The player creation functionality is largely cosmetic, though in this regard it's also quite comprehensive. Facial structure, body type, height, and weight can all be adjusted, and you can choose from a wide variety of apparel, right down to the type and color of your socks, though your gear selection will increase as you progress through the career mode. In addition to the aesthetic changes you can make to your character, you'll determine several character traits that will affect how your player plays, including whether you're right- or left-handed, and whether or not you're a power player, a precision player, or a mixture of the two. You even get to decide as to whether or not your backhand is single- or two-handed.
Once you've created your tennis pro, you're released into the world. From here you have several options. You can compete in a tournament, though, right off the bat, the number of tournaments for which you'll be eligible is limited. You can try out for a sponsorship from companies like Prince, Reebok, Adidas, and Oakley, which can net you cash, fame, and some rather cool licensed gear. The cash is important because it costs money to train with the different tennis coaches, and you simply won't be able to keep up with the players in the bigger-name tournaments if you don't increase your player's stats.