Gamestyle Archive Intro: the joys of tennis were for all, during a brief span of a couple of years on the PS2 and Xbox. Sega of course had their own excellent series as Gopinath explains in this review dating from September 2005.
Can a game perceived as a Virtua Tennis rip-off on Xbox still do the business on Sony’s machine more than a year after the original was released? Gamestyle takes to the courts. Top Spin plays very similarly to Virtua Tennis, the least you’d expect from a tennis game these days.
The serves are played using the usual power bar – pressing one button to start the bar going and another to play the serve. You also have the choice of different strokes, backhands, forehands and lobs, and both serves and normal shots are complemented by a risk shot. Pressing the R1 button just before you take your shot or serve activates the risk mode, and you have to aim for the centre of a moving meter. Hit the middle and you’re rewarded with a devastating serve or shot – and the further from the middle you hit, the worse the serve/shot gets (with you sometimes hitting it straight out). The better you’re playing in the match, the slower the meter moves, so when you’re playing with confidence you’re more likely to gamble and win. It’s a nice touch to the standard formula but because there’s always the chance of you horribly messing up a shot, it’s unlikely that you’ll risk using the option often.
Away from the actual tennis, Top Spin has several modes of play, although most of them are standard Virtua Tennis fare. There are the usual exhibition and tournament modes, which can be customised to a large extent (so you can play however you want – including the splendid four-player option). The game’s depth is provided by career mode – another Virtua Tennis throwback – where you can create a player and compete in different tournaments around the world, improve your player’s abilities and earn some cash. Your player can be customised to a large degree, so you can create a very good representation of yourself if you have a photo or mirror nearby; an excellent addition to the PS2 version is EyeToy compatibility, so you can map your actual face onto the avatar. The customisation even goes as far as allowing you to choose which hand your player hits with, your style of play (power, precision etc.) or whether you prefer a one- or two-handed backhand.
At the start of the career mode, you have several options: you can choose to train with different coaches to improve various stats already bolstered by the mini-games (unfortunately, the developers didn’t study Virtua Tennis enough, as the mini-games aren’t in the same league – although they are entertaining the first few times); you can also play in several tournaments (which are limited at the beginning) and the better you do the more tournaments you can enter. To stand a chance, however, you have to spend quite a bit of time playing the training games to improve your player’s stats. Lastly, you can also try and bag yourself a sponsor (including real companies like Reebok and Adidas) who will provide you with cash (to pay for those expensive coaches) as well as fame and some nifty licensed equipment. Virtua Tennis… erm, Top Spin features a good variety of stadiums to play in – and includes all of the expected playing surfaces (which range from large courts like Wimbledon down to local courts next to your car parks).
Top Spin was the first Xbox tennis game to feature online play, and although it is very similar on the PS2 version, it lacks the great support of an online environment like Live! (however, this isn’t the developers’ fault). Since online PS2 tennis games are few and far between, this feature could well prove to be a great selling point for Top Spin, and fortunately it is implemented well; you can choose to look for a particular game or you can just join wherever someone’s free. Sony’s ageing hardware has taken its toll on Top Spin, leaving this conversion with decent graphics but not much else. A lot of the court textures look flat and the players are slightly angular (although it doesn’t detract from their life-like animation and appearance). Finally, the light sources don’t always correspond to the nice-looking shadows they cast.
The sounds are perfectly acceptable, with all of the usual grunts and groans, and a point of note is that the judge sounds very similar to the one featured in the Megadrive’s Pete Sampras ’96 (or perhaps we’re having flashbacks). The biggest problems with Top Spin are the incredibly bad loading times. It takes far too long to load up a match, considering how average the presentation is, and the transitions between menus are tedious. The developers have done a decent job, but not much more than establishing this as a good Virtua Tennis rip-off (with added online play and longer loading times). The best feature and probably the biggest selling point of Top Spin (at least over Virtua Tennis) is the online mode, so unless you plan on taking this online, grab a copy of the other title – the one which Gamestyle managed to mention eight times in the course of this flattering review.
Gamestyle Score: 7/10