Top Spin quickly became one of the biggest sports games on the Xbox and was one of XSN's premier games. When Microsoft disbanded their ill fated online sports arena, Top Spins rights were sold to 2K Games who at the time were looking to expand their sports stable in a big way. With the release of Top Spin 2 on 360 out of the way, it was time for PAM development to look at the handheld sector. Rather than go with the obvious choice of the PSP they took the challenge of the Nintendo DS and have come out a winner. This is one of the most impressive games on the handheld system to date and is amazingly close to the original Xbox game.
The game is split into two main game modes, exhibition and season. The exhibition mode of course allows you to choose two players and setup a one off match between some of the world's best players on the worlds most famous courts. The primary game mode is of course the Career mode which reflects that of the 360 game pretty much.
You start off by making a new player, either male or female, to take on the world circuit. From there you travel the world taking on tournaments, training and improving your ranking to qualify for the Grand Slam tournaments. There are a few differences between this version and the corresponding X360 version. The major one being that you can jump into tournaments right away rather than having to go through a bunch of training. Of course your character isn't that skilled, but you will find yourself moving up the rankings much quicker. This was one of the biggest bugbears we had with the next generation game and the change works very well for the series.
The game itself is astoundingly good. Once the load times completed we were amazed at how close the title plays to the original Xbox game. The animations of the characters are extremely fluid, with lifelike mechanics featuring throughout. There is also a wide variety of shot selection to choose from, with each button reflecting a different shot. As well as this the 'in the zone' has been retained for the risky shots, and you build this by playing long rallies and shots which push the opponent to the limit.
There are a few problems with the game however, the first being the frame rate. Due to the behind player view, the game has to render quite a lot of graphics which leads to slowdown which is very noticeable. Also the game suffers from a lack of innovation as well. Considering this is the first game on the handheld formats, this may be a very harsh comment to make but the fact is if you're already have even the first Xbox game, then there really is no point to upgrading to this title.
In terms of licensing, 2K Games have again done quite well. While there is a reduced roster, sixteen of the world's best players have made it including the World Number One's Roger Federer and Lindsay Davenport and even with the reduced power of the DS, the characters still look like their real-world counterparts and the statistics also reflect their ability as well. The grand slam tournaments are also somewhat licensed as well. Some have their real name and sponsors, whilst others are set in the location and look just like the real thing. The other tournaments are mainly fictional.
As mentioned before the graphics are incredibly impressive for the DS. The only problem associated with the visuals is, as mentioned, the frame rate. There is also surprisingly a loading time before each match, which can become annoying. The sound effects are also well done but there is a glaring omission - no grunts. However this isn't an entirely bad thing as it can become monotonous and annoying in other tennis games.
Top Spin 2 is a title that impresses beyond our expectations on the DS. PAM may have had a tough time on the 360 and making a truly next gen game, but in terms of handheld, they have created the best tennis game available for portable systems. It may not innovate that much compared to the other two TS games, but it does what it set out to do well, and that's what matters most.
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