User Rating: 8.8 | Top Spin XBOX
Tennis is a game for the people. Anyone can understand it. Anyone can play it. And even if you are really bad, most everyone can still enjoy it. Sadly, the Tennis subgenre has seen a disturbing downward trend since its 16-bit heydays. And it’s not really a trend; it’s an almost complete disappearance from the scene. With the exception of Virtua Tennis, there hasn’t been a notable tennis title released in almost 10 years. Well all of that has changed with the arrival of Top Spin. At their core, all tennis games are really just flashy versions of the classic game Pong. Top Spin’s goal was to change this. Anyone who’s ever played a game of tennis in real life can tell you that there is a ton of strategy involved in shot selection and placement. This is where Top Spin sets itself apart. Instead of having the typical two-button “normal” and “lob” shot setup, Top Spin has a four button setup that includes “normal”, “lob”, “topspin” and “drop” shots. While this may seem trivial, as a former High School Varsity Tennis player, I can assure you that these simple inclusions truly bring real-life depth and strategy needed to the virtual court. Other control refinements include using the triggers to perform as high-risk shot. As the name implies, these are difficult to pull off, but are very effective when performed successfully. The graphics in Top Spin are nothing short of gorgeous. Locales are accurate and realistic complete with current sponsors and manufacturers. Player models are as detailed as I have ever seen. The create-a-player is very well done. You are able to manipulate your player’s features through a custom face texture-mapping editor. It is quite fun to see what kind of combinations you can come up with. If you don’t want to spend a ton of time tweaking things like nostril width and eyebrow pitch, there are plenty of pre-made players for you to choose from. Although there is a good selection, I must say I was slightly disappointed with the number of default accessories available. However, I have come to learn that more are unlockable later. At this point, it is unclear to me if your racquet selection makes any legitimate difference or if it is simply there for cosmetics. Hopefully, it does make a difference. All crowd members have been rendered in full 3D. And while they are nothing ultra-special it was a nice touch you don’t often see. Unfortunately, the developers of Top Spin seem to have double-faulted when putting sound into the game. There are your typical tennis sound effects; shoes squeaking, balls popping, grunts, etc. The music that is in the game is well done. However, music is rarely present. This being the case, Top Spin is a game that would have greatly benefited from the ability to rip a custom soundtrack. There is usually pre and post-game commentary but nothing during the match other than the crowd and the line judge yelling “in” or “out”. Tennis isn’t a game that requires a running commentary, but it still would have been nice to hear someone saying something about the way you are playing. AI in the game is damn near perfect. Being a former Varsity player, I am extremely picky about the AI in tennis games. It takes a lot to impress me. In the majority of tennis games you can easily defeat the computer by simply getting them to run cross court a few times and then hitting a winner. The CPU in Top Spin isn’t as dumb as he may look. Early on (especially if you don’t have your player built up) you’ll get creamed. The players play a convincing game of tennis and don’t do all of that crazy diving that you found in Virtua Tennis. The developers even put framing (when you hit the ball with the frame of the racquet rather than the strings) in. That happens more often than you would think in real-life tennis and I was quite impressed they included it. The computer is still probably a little more gullible that I would like, but I have a feeling that will disappear as I climb the ranks and unless you have a lot of tennis experience, you probably won’t even notice. Load times in Top Spin are surprising. Surprisingly bad. It’s not that they are exceptionally long (usually 5-10 seconds), it’s how often they occur. You’ll get a load screen between just about every single menu. On a system as powerful as the Xbox, I thought this was pretty much a thing of the past. It doesn’t really detract from the overall fun of the game, but it does become an annoying eyesore (and time waster) that you wish would go away. The roster in Top Spin is good. 16 recognizable male and female pros. The player editor affords you the ability to create just about any pro who is missing given you are willing to sit down and tweak them into life. Mixed (male vs. female) matches would have been nice, but are not an option in Top Spin. I’m sure it’s due to licensing and royalty issues, but I just don’t know why we can’t get all the professionals in there. They do it in all the other sports games (Madden, NBA Live, Triple Play, etc), and they actually did it in ATP Tour Tennis for the Sega Genesis. Still, there probably aren’t that many people who'll care enough to notice. Top Spin has all the modes you’d want in a tennis game. There’s your standard Exhibition. You can learn the game in Training. And then you’ve got your meat and potatoes Career mode. This is where you create a player and then compete to earn money, trophies and become the #1 player in the world. This is done about as well as could be expected. The player upgrading system is quite intuitive and limiting the number of upgrades is really a good move because it ensures that nobody can build up a beast that has all their stats maxed out. Each player really will have strengths and weaknesses; just like in real life. I was really disappointed with the minigames you play in order to build up your player. This was my favorite part of Virtua Tennis. The minigames in Virtua Tennis were so interesting and unique that you couldn’t wait to play them. As well, they were often very challenging. The minigames in Topspin are dull at best and are easily beaten in a try or two. It’s a shame they didn’t have more personality. Still, they get the job done and if you have never played Virtua Tennis, you’ll probably like them. The other glaring omission is the complete inability to save in the middle of a tournament. This is huge. Considering how long it takes to win three sets, let alone three entire matches the inability to save in the middle of things is almost prohibitive. Be warned that when you enter a tournament, you must play it from beginning to end if you want to win. If you have to quit before you have either won or lost the tournament, it is considered a loss. There is no partial credit and you will have to enter the tournament again and start from scratch. This is almost inconceivable, but it’s in there. The number one draw of Top Spin has to be the ability to play online. Top Spin is the first game to utilize XSN, Xbox Live’s new tournament and ranking system. Sadly, I haven’t had the privilege to take this title online yet. However, all reports say that playing Top Spin online is even more fun than it is offline. This is the quick pick up and play game that Xbox Live has been waiting for. I’m sure the global ranking system and overall international interest in tennis will make sure to keep Microsoft’s XBL servers busy for months and even years to come. In the end, Top Spin is a game that is easy to recommend to everyone. People new to the game will be able to get into it right away. Tennis veterans will appreciate the attention to detail and exceedingly convincing AI. XBL fanatics will be happy to have another title in the stable. And while Top Sin does commit a few faults, it’s still an Ace of a game that just about anyone can Love