A few years ago when XSN was still seen as something which could succeed by Microsoft they released possibly the best tennis game ever made in Top Spin. Exclusive to the Xbox, it showed why MS didn't need Virtua Tennis to get fans on the console and it still remains probably the best tennis game out there. Earlier this year Microsoft ditched XSN and sold the rights to the games it had built under the slogan, one of these being Top Spin. 2K Sports picked up the rights and, along with the original developer, have gone back and updated it for the PS2. The PS2 version may be a little lackluster in graphical power, but still retains the gameplay that made top spin such a smash hit.
In Top Spin you have two options to play - either an exhibition match with the featured professionals or to go on the world tour and work your rankings up through tournaments and challenges. That may not sound much but like the Xbox you will find around fifteen hours of gameplay, especially if you decide to take your player all the way to number one. Oh, and you can do this with both a male and female character, doubling the play time.
One thing which really hasn't carried on from the Xbox version is the player option. You still do make your own players but they don't look as clean as the Xbox version which has come to be expected. Once you've finished creating your player its time to get trained up and find a sponsor. How you do this is crucial to the ongoing success of the player as there are limits to what you can do, discussed further in this review. The gameplay itself remains the same with fast paced action and seemingly impossible shots being made all the time. This really is homage to Virtua Tennis and those looking for an accurate simulation should look elsewhere. This is pure unadulterated action, and that is what makes the game so fun to play.
Once you've finished creating the player you have to move on to the world tour and sign up with one of many real world sponsors. They offer challenges to increase their sponsorship and how they promote you. For instance, if you win a challenge match they may feature you in a TV ad sending your earnings through the roof. You can also buy the best equipment further into the game as well. However the best way to improve is to train. The interesting part about this section is you begin with 14 career stars and have to spend them on training throughout your whole career. Once they are used up, your player is as trained as they are going to get so spend wisely.
In terms of updates for the PS2, 2K Sports haven't rested on the game's laurels and have gone out and signed the big names of the tennis circuit. Federer and Sharapova are both included which were not featured in the Xbox version of the game. The others have been retained such as Lleyton Hewitt and all have their trademark moves. As well as this you can offer attitude during the match such as rubbing it on or frustration, or even applause for a nice shot. This really only becomes useful while playing online because it doesn't affect the AI player at all. It would have been nice to see two people fight a bit if there is too much attitude, but then again this is meant to be a somewhat serious tennis game. You will see racquet abuse and get away with it however.
The visuals of the game have obviously been toned down from the Xbox version, and on top of this there is something which almost kills the game because it is so apparent - the world map feels like it's running at five frames per second making it extremely frustrating to move between areas and tournaments. If you can get over this, the rest of the game features fairly good graphics and the frame rate remains solid throughout. The music and sound effects have also been retained.
Top Spin PS2 has come across quite well but really, if you have both consoles, then the Xbox version is the better bet. Overall it's better, has a better online structure and is in the bargain bin price range by now. The updates to the PS2 version are only minimal. However, if you only have a PS2 and are hankering for tennis action then you won't find much better than this.
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