Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What is wrong with Top Spin 3?

It's got a learning curve like a motherfucker. Here's the review.


As sporting video games start to look more and more like their real-life counterparts, the battle between Top Spin and Virtua Tennis rages on like an epic Nadal vs Federer five-setter.

With each itineration, they seek to smack the competition into next week, but with contrasting approaches. Whereas both series are absolutely gorgeous and graphically realistic, it can only be said that Top Spin offers hard core tennis fans a true 'simulation'.

Whereas Virtua Tennis offers players the chance to smack the ball anywhere, regardless of position, timing or execution of a shot, Top Spin takes these things into account before finally you hit the ball into the net. It's phenomenal what exactly is going on under the hood in each match of Top Spin. The attention to detail of player mechanics and physics is truly a sight to behold for the true tennis fan.

For example, if you release the shot button too early, you'll find that your player will reach for the ball, and end up looking like a complete prat. Push it too late and you'll be on the back foot for the next shot, which is absolutely crucial. You see, whereas in Virtua Tennis you can pretty much get away with anything, in Top Spin, there's a flow to each point.

When you hit the ball over the net, you immediately have to be nimble of feet and mind. You have to be thinking about where the opposition is going next, and if you take your eye off the ball, you'll be on a one-way ticket to loser-ville.

So Top Spin offers great simulation and the ultimate tennis experience, but does this necessarily equal fun?

Well, for all of its inaccuracies, Virtua Tennis was awful fun. In between matches, you could play fun mini-games that boosted your skill and kicked ass. What can be more fun than trying to ten-pin bowl with a giant tennis ball?

Then there was the music in each match, that J-Pop annoyance that grew on you until you found yourself humming it at work while practising your backhand. Online play was great, with a good mix of people just looking to have a good time while hitting a few balls around, but with Top Spin, fun is a dirty word.

Nope, it's all about the business for Top Spin. It markets itself as a sports-simulator, no more, no less. This latest version is no exception to the rule, with sparse fun things to do. There's matches, more matches, and then 'top spin school' (which doesn't offer spanking from Anna Kournikova for being naughty, killjoys).

Then again, Top Spin offers tennis fans what Virtua Tennis can't in officially licensed grand slams. With the notable exception of Wimbledon, they're all there. Roland Garros, New York and Melbourne to make the player feel as if they're really playing in front of massive crowds for the most coveted prizes in tennis. It's an experience made all the richer by the crap you had to go through to get there.

I speak of course of the career mode. Whereas the career mode of Virtua Tennis could be conquered in two days, Top Spin has the learning curve of a wall comprised of Roger Federer on a personal vendetta against you.

I spoke of the sheer complication of the match mechanics before, and you'll have to learn all of these if you have any hope of progressing past the junior tournaments. I warn you now, if you're not a fan of tennis, this WILL put you off tennis for life.

The underlying question in all this is, as with all sports games, does realism equate with fun? What's the use of having the most realistic game if it's no fun? What's the use of have a fun game if it's not realistic? That perhaps is a question to be left in the wind, to be decided by the consumers with the almighty dollars.

As for any sort of recommendation, I can only say that if you want the most realistic experience of tennis you can get from your couch, go with Top Spin. If you just want a hit up with mates, go with Virtua Tennis.

Don't even get me started on Wii tennis.

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