Top Spin 4
The last couple of years we Belgians got to see quite some good (female) tennis with Clijsters, Henin and Wickmayer. 2K Sports took the task to put this noble sport onto game consoles and with high expectations I ended up putting Top Spin 4 in my X360.
Already a couple of years the Top Spin series has been the number one of tennis games, a monopoly they acquired also a couple of years with their NBA games. This doesn’t mean that everything they touch turns into gold, however. Their newest tennis game does have some small flaws and shortcomings, making the king of tennis games sitting not so comfortably on his throne. The available player field in some aspects, for instance, is quite disappointing. Admitted: the real top players like Federer, Nadal, Murray, Ivanovic and Serena Williams are present, but only the absolute top of the world is present and the rest of the field is filled up with fictive players. Tournaments and exercises can also be done with legends like Andre Agassi and Björn Borg, but that is little more than a nice addition, especially if you take into account that soccer and basketball have a much wider variety of players. Or are you able to list the full top50 out of your head? On the plus side: the real players you can choose from do look so realistic that you can almost count the pearls of sweat on their face.
Newbies to the series shouldn’t fear they’ll be thrown into the deep with this sequel. The Top Spin Academy lets amateurs and experienced players uplift their level a bit on the practise field before going into the real work. Different lessons with varied difficulty degree make that you thoroughly learn the game and perfectly know how to react in each possible situation. An important aspect there is the timing; let go of the button too early or late and the accuracy of your hit will drastically lower. Luckily there’s real time feedback that allows you to immediately see how your timing is so that after a while you’ll blindly start to feel the right moment.
These tennis lessons can be translated on the field in the career mode. With a self-made man (or woman) you get to wrestly your way to the top and try to go from zero to hero. You start as a noble unknown, work your way up through different sparring games and smaller tournaments, and earn enough points to build your character. You can sharpen your offensive or defensive capabilities, or your serve- and volley quality to become good enough to take on the real top players. Creating the “perfect player”, however, has been made impossible as you can only go to level 20 and will need to make choices on what type of player you want to have. Coaches that start working with you will also help you become better.
Don’t worry about injuries as they’re not present. Other noticeable absentees; there’s no money to be won during your career (only new outfits, fans and points to increase your level), there’s no such thing as training, and also press conferences are nowhere to be seen. Where we don’t have anything to complain about is the graphics. There are tons of cut-scenes during the matches, making the “television feel” omnipresent. These look very good and deliver a graphical high that remains while playing. Also the audience roars itself with cries of amazement, disappointment and astonishment during rallies. Only downer: just like with many sports games they look like cardboard added with some rudimentary animations.
Those that haven’t had enough after hitting a ball on their own can challenge their friends for a game of King of the Court. Here you take on some friends (on- or offline) and get to show off your virtual tennis skills to the outside world. You choose for how many points to play and the winner remains present. Make enough points are remain on the court long enough and you end up being the “King of the court”. Or: plenty of reason to feel superior towards your friends. Until you again get your ass kicked by Roger Federer…
Top Spin 4 is a more than decent tennis game. There are some minor downpoints present but we don’t mind ignoring them. The low accessibility and the natural controls make the biggest tennis noob look like he’s quickly ready to become a pro. Some aspects like the legends and the career mode could use some more work, but all in all this game is certainly worth a shot.