Top Spin 4 Review

I’ve never been a fan of the Top Spin franchise, probably because of all the time I spent at the arcade playing Virtua Tennis when I was a kid. The gap between the mindless arcade fun of Sega’s franchise and the attempted simulation of Top Spin proved too large for me, the lazy son of a bitch that I am. On top  that, Top Spin always felt too clunky to me to be really fun.

Top Spin 4 is another story. This game is a bridge in that gap I mentioned above, and it made me forget all about my love for freaking Virtua Tennis.


Top Spin 4 (XBox360 [Reviewed], PS3, Wii)
Developer: 2K Czech
Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: March 15, 2011
MSRP: $59.99

In Top Spin 3, it often felt like a trial to just hit the damn ball, and when your entire game is about hitting that damn ball, you have a problem. This time, hitting the ball is not a problem, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to treat this game like a prettier version of VT2009 — you’ve gotta get the timing right.

This timing mechanic as at the heart of the gameplay. You’ll hold down the button that represents the type of hit you want to make, and you’ll try to release the button at just the right time so you’ll hit it well. It’s not impossible to get the timing right, but it’s not anywhere close to easy, and the longer a rally goes, the smaller your window of opportunity becomes, because your player gets tired. Get the timing wrong and you’ll end up, optimistically, with a mediocre shot or, pessimistically, with an error.

The timing mechanic is a method of forgiveness, as a f–k-up doesn’t mean an automatic loss on the point, but you aren’t going to make much headway over your opponents without hitting good shots.

Really, this is the most “authentic” way to present the game of tennis in a video game featuring a bunch of famous tennis players (past and present), being that there is a minimum expected performance from folks like Novak Djokovic and Michael Chang, and swinging and missing falls below that minimum. So what we have here is a game of tennis that, most of the time, just feels correct. It cedes you the minimum — that you’ll hit the ball and it won’t usually end up in the stands — and puts the rest in your hands. It even added something to my real-life tennis watching; I had the Sony Ericsson Open on one TV while I was playing this game on another, and I felt like I kinda understood the play of the game a little better.

And if you need help, you can always go to the Top Spin Academy. The Academy actually pops up the first time you play the game, which allows every player to get the bare minimum knowledge needed to get a handle on the things I’ve described above.

There’s also a surprising authenticity to the game; those who watch tennis will see the real-life players in the game basically play like they do in actual, real-world matches. Seeing Roger Federer return a lob between his legs was probably the most exciting moment I’ve had with a tennis game.

If I have any nags, it’s that CPU characters will occasionally completely give up on a point despite possibly being within reach of the ball. I don’t think this is a flaw with the player AI, exactly; when this occurs, the crowd will also burst into applause while the ball is still in play. It’s as if the game will sometimes decide you win the point before you actually win the point. This seemed to happen often in the early stages of career, and then instances decreased as I went along.

In other news, Top Spin’s patented Way Too Many Options Character Creator returns. I love this thing, because you can make anything with it. If you aren’t familiar with Top Spin, just know that the character creator gives you an absurd amount of precise control; it embarrasses the pants off Mass Effect’s facemaker.

The backbone of the game, of course, is the career, which is extensive and will keep you occupied for a long time and takes you through all sorts of awesome tennis venues. Advantages two and three that Top Spin 4 has over Virtua Tennis (after, like, the actual gameplay) are that it’s extremely pretty and has a lot of real venues alongside a few really badass fictional ones.

There’s also multiplayer, both online and off-, and there’s a mode where you can play with your favorite player to earn points for him/her on an online leaderboard. Naturally, Rafa is winning, while my attempts to move Caroline Wozniacki up the board have thus far been futile. Maybe that’s not my fault, though, as my online experience has not exactly been super smooth. The game appears to speed up at random intervals, and my inputs sometimes didn’t take, and my opponents were experiencing the same phenomena. Most of the time it works like it’s supposed to, but those occasions wen it didn’t were, uh, sad times.

As a tennis video game enthusiast, I endorse Top Spin 4 as the best tennis game ever. I wonder if Virtua Tennis 4 will be able to compete. Bravo, 2K Czech.

Note: this game supports the Playstation Move, but we were supplied with an Xbox 360 version of the game by 2K.

Pros:

  • Brilliant balance between arcade and extreme simulation
  • Obscene character customization
  • Absolutely gorgeous game

Cons:

  • Online Gets a little odd sometimes

final score: 90/100

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2 Comments on Top Spin 4 Review

apoc

On April 6, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Good review Phil. How does the game handle hitting (or attempting) winners? Is the timing mechanic the only input into a shot or is there some kind of “risk modifier” button?

gnashitup

On April 6, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Why should I care about a review of TS4 done by someone who never appreciated any of the previous games in the series and prefers arcade style tennis game? I don’t.