Top SpinIt seems like it was only days ago that Initial D and I were celebrating his birthday with Microsoft in San Francisco. We were standing side by side in the midst of all other XSN titles with our attention diverted solely towards Microsoftâ€™s premiere tennis title. It was clear then that Top Spin would dominate all other XSN games. In reality it has been a few months since then and the team at Microsoft Game Studios has had a chance to clean up the preview copy they had on show that day. As we saw it that day, the game had lots of potential. We walked away thinking, â€œwe have to get that game!â€ Well we finally got it and took it out for a spin ( a TOP Spin) to find that this is much more than just a Virtua Tennis clone. This is one tip top tennis title. Features: â€¢ Up to 4 man multiplayer â€¢ System link play â€¢ Xbox Live support â€¢ Its part of the XSN game library â€¢ One of the most robust create-a-player modesâ€¦ ever. â€¢ Anna Kournikova andâ€¦ some other players. â€¢ Anna Kournikova. Gameplay Get a grip on your racket. This is the tennis game to own. Where do I start? Perhaps I can start by saying that in order to enjoy this game you need not be a tennis fan. You donâ€™t have to be a racket jockey to appreciate the simplicity of control in Top Spin. Similarly, you canâ€™t be a complete dolt and still make your way through the ranks; at least not without the required finesse to master this gameâ€™s intuitive control scheme. Thatâ€™s the beauty of this game. It is easy enough for any gamer to just pick up and play while simultaneously being deep enough to keep seasoned gamers glued to their couch mastering the control scheme. Comparisons to Segaâ€™s masterpiece series, Virtua Tennis, are bound to arise. The control scheme is very similar to their final 2k2 incarnation in which each button corresponds to a different type of hit. â€œAâ€ is a flat, safe shot, â€œBâ€ is you title shot (top spin), â€œXâ€ is your slice while â€œYâ€ lobs the ball. Simple enough right? Not quite. The left and right triggers are â€œriskâ€ shots. The left will â€œdropâ€ the ball while the right will â€œsmashâ€ it. Is it any simpler now? Nope. You see, all buttons respond to pressure sensitivity, which means that you cold essentially modify the intensity of every different type of shot (save the risk shots) and expand the simple four button control scheme into an endless array of weaponry. Tennis with attitude. If the expanded control scheme wasnâ€™t enough to vary the gameplay from standard tennis games, Top Spin adds a lot of spice to a sport sorely lacking in flavor (in my humble opinion). As the match progresses, each player can fill their â€œIn the Zoneâ€ (ITZ) gauge with well placed shots, successful volleys and perfectly timed risk shots. Consider the ITZ gauge a momentum meter. When full, your shots will be faster, stronger and sharper. Risk shots will be easier to pull off and the general momentum of the match will be in your favor. When emptyâ€¦ you suck. However, be careful of taking too many unnecessary risks or forcing too many errors because the momentum of a match can swing just as quickly on the tennis court as it does in a WWE match. Things arenâ€™t always so black and white. Leave it to Microsoft to make video game tennis riskier and a little more irreverent. After every point, you will be given the chance to vent your frustrations, celebrate your skill, applaud you opponent or curse their ability. In between serves the black and white buttons flash on the screen prompting you to express a little character with a little button press. While previous games did so for you, Top Spin allows you to be the meanest, angriest most disrespectful tennis player since John McEnroe. However, if you should so choose, you can also be Ghandi with a racket. Applaud you opponent when he scores on you, thank the crowd for cheering in your favor or just pump your fist in celebration after your gamble pays off, either way, its your personality out on that court. Just make sure to press the button more than once; the more you press, the more intense your playerâ€™s reaction. Practice your stroke. Win endorsements. Go pro. Prove it online. By far, Top Spinâ€™s most engrossing aspect would be its deep career mode. After creating the most grotesque version of yourself you can possibly conjure (trust me, you will), you can raise your monstrosity to be the ultimate in racket swinging mayhem. Much like Virtua Tennisâ€™ world map where you can fly from venue to venue and complete training exercises along the way, Top Spin places you onâ€¦aâ€¦ world map where you can fly from venue to venue and complete training exercises along the way. Ok so maybe itâ€™s a little too similar to Virtua Tennisâ€™ career mode, but in all honesty, isnâ€™t that what a career tennis playerâ€™s life is? In fact, Top Spin ups the ante and includes sponsors to court (again, pun intended) and a very engaging skill system. Though the sponsorship tests arenâ€™t quite like the ones in Amped (actually they are very similar to the training exercises) they do open up a whole new wardrobe with which to customize your character. And while the skill system is nothing compared to an RPG level up system, it does allow for some customization of your playerâ€™s strengths and weaknesses. When you feel you have sufficiently built up your playerâ€™s stats and picked out the perfect shorts to match with that Yonex polo, you can take your player online.
I got spanked by a monkey1988. Unfortunately, I can honestly say that it wasnâ€™t due to my lack of skill that the monkey won the match, but rather a combination of factors; A) lag is a huge issue. I have yet to play a game that does not lag severely. Granted, it could be my T1 connection, but... no. 2) For some strange reason the timing on the serve no longer matters. No matter how good you are at timing your serve for maximum power, the lag issue will always throw you off. Be prepared to re-learn your serve timing. Lastly, nobody uses their custom players online. If you arenâ€™t facing Sampras, then youâ€™re losing to Hewiit. What fun. So, aside from the fact that the other guy was really good and I sucked, thatâ€™s what hindered my online playâ€¦ honestly. If you bought this game for XSN support, make sure to start or join a league with nearby friends only. However, if you fancy a lag-a-licious game with people who rarely show up for their matches, then go ahead and join some random league. Graphics Anna Kournikova is hot. So is this game. Nuff said. There really isnâ€™t much to say about this game aside from the fact that itâ€™s a very good looking game. Player animations are silky smooth and nearly all character models are damn fine representations of their â€œreal worldâ€ selves. Though the plastic shine of 3D models does, at times, detract from the overall believability of the character models, it hardly becomes noticeable during gameplay. Some of the best design work was paid to developing quality stadiums. Each venue is rendered with great detail and exemplary accuracy. Elephantitis, its finally possible. Perhaps Top Spinâ€™s best graphical show lies in its amazing create-a-player feature. With it I was able to create both a fairly believable representation of myself and a man riddled with elephantitis of the everything (no, they arenâ€™t the same person). Given the fact that the players were animated with motion capture technology, each created player you make will move like a pro. Imagine the Elephant man kicking up dust as he sprint and slides across the clay courtâ€¦ awesome. Sound How exciting is the sound of a ball bouncing? Reallyâ€¦ Ok granted itâ€™s a tennis game, but with recent games pulling off a custom soundtrack so nicely, there is no reason for Top Spin to not do so also. With games like Conflict Desert Storm 2: Back to Baghdad, benefiting from the custom soundtrack feature, tennis games (and for that matter all sports games) could do the same. I mean, come on, if a war game can do it, why not tennis? Furthermore, the in-game music leaves much to be desired. While it may not sound like the generic 1980â€™s wanna-be big hair rock of Vritua Tennis, The Vinesâ€™ â€œGet Freeâ€ does not a good soundtrack make. â€OUT! OOT! HUT!â€ Luckily, the team at Microsoft spent more time developing quality sound effect for actual gameplay rather then licensing good music to listen to while setting stuff up in the menus. After a few matches in different venues you will immediately notice the individual attention paid to diversifying sound. Line judges will shout â€œoutâ€ in one venue, while in another, a heftier, more gruff judge may shout â€œOOT!â€ The crowds will clap in anticipation of a match and cheer you on as you gain the lead. They will react to your celebration or frustration while tennis balls thump resoundingly with heavier hits than with lighter taps. Just wait until you hear your footsteps quicken pace, then slide on a clay courtâ€¦ youâ€™ll love it. Replay Make sure to keep home court advantage. My initial impression of Top Spin was that it would dominate most of my online play. Unfortunately that is not the case. While the multiplayer fun should have people coming back for more over and over again, those of you who buy this title for the XSN support may be a little disappointed. As I stated earlier, the online play was very laggy and pretty much made gameplay frustrating. The sad thing is that, this game is so much fun to play offline that the online value suffers greatly. When you see the amount of potential this game has for online play, the truth will be that much more bitter. Granted the games might have suffered because I wasnâ€™t hosting and my opponent might have been farther than just down the street, but I highly doubt that was always the case. Luckily, the offline gameplay is very addictive. After touring the world and building up your custom character to a complete tennis god in the deep single player career mode, the multiplayer matches are sure to fill the void. Get a friend to play doubles and youâ€™re in for a few hours of tense tennis action. Overall This is hands down the best tennis game on the market. It improves on nearly every aspect of video game tennis, ever. Everything from the intuitive control scheme to the expanded career mode is golden. Even though it doesnâ€™t completely deliver on the online front, the rest of the package is sure to serve up an ace. Though Microsoftâ€™s entry into the console tennis cup was not the most anticipated, I guarantee that its sequel will most definitely meet with a welcome audience. Top Spin does so much right this time around and still manages to leave enough room for needed improvement. Mixed doubles, lag-less online play and a few unlockable features are sure to make next yearâ€™s Top Spin a sure fire hit, in the mean time stick with this ace. Fernando Bueno