Tennis is one of those sports that people seem to enjoy, but never really respect as a videogame. While baseball, football, basketball, and hockey all receive annual updates, tennis is relegated to Virtua Tennis, Mario Tennis, and Top Spin. This is a shame, as Pong, one of the most important games ever made, is just a variation of tennis.
Thankfully, 2K Sports has at least some attention on the sport with the latest in the Top Spin franchise, Top Spin 4. Developed by 2K Czech, a team mostly made up of developers from closed studio PAM Development, Top Spin 4 has been in development for about two years. Focus has been placed on the title in two major areas, presentation and approachability By keeping the presentation top-notch, they hope to set the bar for tennis sims. They also aim to address the rather complex mechanics introduced in Top Spin 3 by easing new players into the game.
The first time you pop in the disc, the game guides players through the various shots. A will give a flat shot, X a slice, B a top spin, and Y a lob. The game can be played just using the face buttons, which is simpler than Top Spin 3’s bevy of modifiers.. Helpful indicators, such as a yellow X showing where a shot will land, are also added to help players control their character, although they can be turned off.
For those who want to get into the nitty-gritty, they can hold shots to bring up what the publicist jokingly called a “Fable 3 meter.” By charging a shot with perfect timing, a circle will fill up red and timed right will result in a more powerful. A quick tap will offer easier to control shots, the right bumper will modify serves and volleys, right trigger will drop shots, and the left trigger will pull the player around the ball. This is especially good if a player, like Federer for example, is more comfortable with his baseline forehand.
As for serves, button taps work fine, but if a player wants to add some complexity, they can use the right stick to swing shots. Again, Top Spin 4 is a complex game, but it has been tuned to allow newer players to have fun and win without performing some of the deep and complex shot maneuvers.
As both a tennis and tennis videogame player, I really dug the mechanics of Top Spin 4. Compared to other sim and arcade-style tennis titles, Top Spin 4 offers a lot of complexity and variations of play style. Faults are actually a common occurrence here from both player and computer, which is very nice to see. Makes the games seem more realistic.
Visually, the game looks great. While the faces aren’t the best, they look good for the most part. Players will experience fatigue and you can see it in how they play. Additionally, character models will sweat into their clothing, and on clay courts build up grime and dirt. When asked about Kinect or Move support, that was something no one from 2K was willing to talk about for the moment. Additionally, there are more features they are keeping secret for the March release date.
Top Spin 4 has got 25 licensed professional pros, ranging from contemporary stars like Nadal and Federer to past greats, like Agassi, Sampras and Borg. Female stars, like Serena Williams, are also included, although the female side is a little anemic. Some of the biggest female players like Venus Williams or Sharapova are missing, which is a major bummer. Courts too, are varied, but there are some noticeable omissions. There are 42 venues, with seven licensed including the courts at the Australian Open, Roland Garros, and the US Open, although Wimbledon is not included.
Ultimately, and this may just be the tennis fan in me speaking, I came away really impressed. Visually, it’s one of the best tennis titles I’ve played, has a rocking soundtrack, and once on the court offers plenty of flexibility. Tennis as a videogame has been mostly locked down, but it’s great to play one that looks and feels as tight as Top Spin 4.