"The best representation of the professional tennis circuit ever"
Decent console tennis games are hard to come by, in fact they are rare. The last one was Virtua Tennis from SEGA Sports but between the demise of the Dreamcast and now, tennis fans haven't had much to crow about. That's all about to change with the release of Top Spin, quite possibly the best console tennis game ever. Virtua Tennis was always going to take quite a beating, Top Spin appears to have achieved it.
Top Spin features two main game modes; exhibition and career. In exhibition mode you can choose two players from the Professionals featured or use your own created character in a one off match. The area where you will spend most of your time with the game is career. This tasks you with creating a brand new player and taking him or her to the summit of the world rankings.
After creating your custom player you are given fourteen career stars to spend on training. Working your way up from bronze to gold level, you can become a master in forehand, backhand, volley and serving. Due to the limited amount of stars it is likely you will only be able to achieve gold status in one area of tennis, mixing up the gameplay and making sure you can't dominate from the outset. Training asks of you to hit balls in certain areas of the court to score points. Earn enough points and that career star is yours improving your game overall.
There are numerous tournaments featured in Top Spin, from Pro-Ams all the way up to the four Grand Slam tournaments. Although Top Spin features no official licences from tournaments such as Wimbledon and the Australian Open, the grand slam structure does reflect the real world in terms of location and type of court. For instance the London, England tournament is played on grass. Obviously you won't be able to play in the major tournaments straight off the bat and must work your ranking up through lower tournaments. As you rise up, don't be surprised to see some of the real world pro's slump to lower rankings.
The ranking system works very much the same as Amped. You start off as rank 100 with the aim to become the number one player in the world. It's quite easy to get started in Top Spin and you can achieve a top 50 and then top 20 rank in a few hours play. However to reach the number 1 rank took a significant amount of time due to the fact the slams are really the only place to get the required points to leap frog the leader. During the career mode you will notice the number one position will change, and you can have a direct bearing on this by defeating various players. Each tournament place gives you a certain amount of points, if you have amassed enough points, you are then number one in the world.
Top Spin, instead of a calendar, features a world map as the user interface. You choose which tournament to play in or where to get coached via this interface and it works quite well. The tournaments start off in the quarter finals phase and feature two sets of first two three games. Cutting down the sets and length of tournaments has helped Top Spin from becoming boring when bogged down in a lengthy tournament. It's quick, but it's not easy, especially in the higher tournaments.
To help you along the way in your career you can gain sponsorship from some of the names featured in Top Spin. Names such as Adidas, Yonex, Prince etc who are all synonymous with professional tennis are willing to sponsor you if the character has the right qualities. To prove to them you are a good player you have to win a match but then they will provide you with new clothes and money to help you along your way. Once your rankings begin to rise you will be able to take part in national and international television campaigns earning even more money. You can change sponsors at any time, but you will have to perform all the tasks again.
The game play in Top Spin is a mix of simulation and arcade. It is easy to pick up and play but will take a long time to master. You have a selection of four shots, normal shot, slice, top spin and lob and as you build your player up in career mode these abilities will all improve. There is also four types of serve available. The speed of play is very fast paced, especially when the male players are involved but you can't play male versus female matches. As you progress through the rankings and achieve status of young gun through to legend you will also gain other skills such as being able to run faster, or able to return risk shots better.
Top Spin can seem deceptively easy at first. Rising through the ranks up to the top 20 in quick succession is common but once your there the AI cranks it up a little. To get better once fully trained, you have to play against tough opposition in grand slam tournaments and these are not easy to win, even when your player is ranked in the top five. It's these matches where you are fighting tooth and nail to beat the AI where you will enjoy Top Spin the most. Winning a break of serve can change a match and in grand slams holding your serve is quite a challenge in itself. The more you play Top Spin it seems to get better and better which can only mean good things for its longevity.
Top Spin features some professional players from the real world circuits. Players such as Lleyton Hewitt, Martina Hingis, Pete Sampras and others all feature. The developers have done a fantastic job on their animations with all the professionals featuring their real world traits. Lleyton will sometimes jump for a backhand, Sampras will take a while to serve, and Martina will fire off her deadly backhand. You won't get to play the professionals until nearing the top of the rankings but once you do you will have to play your best as they are tough cookies to crack.
Top Spin features various sizes of stadiums to play in. From playgrounds with no crowds and people jogging past right up to centre court in a grand slam tournament. One nice feature is the way crowd sizes change depending on the current progression of the tournament. Crowds will be larger in the final then the quarter finals. Arenas can range from indoor and outdoor, and the draw distance outside the courts is heavily detailed as well with traditional buildings for that part of the globe sometimes built into the court such as in Seoul.
Top Spin is one of the best looking games on the Xbox. The character models are heavily detailed as are the stadiums. The game maintains a rock steady frame rate and has graphical effects such as real time shadows. No commentary is provided, except for before tournaments but players grunt and crowds will cheer. One unique feature in the sound department is that when playing in a country such as France, French will be used to announce points and scores rather then English.
Multiplayer wise the game is quite impressive. Top Spin is the second game to feature the XSN online service which will allow players to run their own private tournaments online. Top Spin also features Xbox Live and to be counted in the female/male rankings you must use your created player online. In an exhibition online match, the professionals can be used. System link is also available.
Top Spin is a game that no Xbox owner should ignore. Even if you're not heavily into the professional tennis circuit, chances are you will find something to like about Top Spin. It truly is one of, if not the best tennis console game to come out this generation and comes highly recommended.
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