If you’re mad at your parents because they never gave you the chance to learn tennis, now’s your chance. Become the new Pete Sampras or Kim Clijsters with Microsoft’s Top Spin for the green box…
After putting the disc in your console and launching, you’ll end up in a menu with a whole lot of options and game modes going from Career mode to single match and exhibition. And that’s only for the single player part. Completely down below you’ll find the illustrious word “Multiplayer” as Top Spin supports Xbox Live and next to that also console linking ànd XSN Sports, Microsoft’s very own sports network where you can create tournaments, check out rankings and organise the whole matter in such a simple way that even my parents would understand it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test this feature due to the lacking of Xbox Live…
So, let’s see what offline gaming gives us then. In Single Match you just have to choose player and terrain to be ready to game. Once fed up with this you can choose career mode.
You have to create a character and about everything you’d want is possible; if you want a nose bigger than the Eiffel Tower, no problem. Hell, you can even bend it so much that only looking at it will make you feel sick already. Once done with that you get put on a world mapwhere you can find loads of stuff going from hairdresser, sports shops, Grand Slam stadiums and even sponsors. Before being able to play a Grand Slam tournament, however, you’ll first have to practice a bit in little tournaments and with the trainers.
With a trainer you can enhance your technique but the downpoint is that it’s ex-tre-me-ly easy, just like the minigames from sponsors and the first tournaments. There are moments your opponent will just remain still in the corner where he has returned your last ball while you can hit it back to the other side without him even moving a muscle.
Grand Slams are a different thing, though. Your opponents are a lot tougher and from time to time balls will be flying around your ears. A smoother transition between easy and difficult would be much appreciated because the difference is so big it’s almost like starting from zero again.
Almost each continent has a sponsor and you can’t miss them. To pay a trainer, you’ll need money and these guys are the place to be ! Once you’ve hooked up with a sponsor, you’ll receive some clothing and will be able to “work” for them. These are also minigames in which you have to score a certain amount of points in a certain time span.
The controls are extremely easy. The left thumb stick controls the direction of your hits while you can use the right one to have your character moving around the field. Hitting is done with the ABXY buttons while the triggers can be used for some extra effect. All the moves are present, the normal forehand and backhand or lob, but also slices or drop shots are possible. The service also comes in two variations: normal straightforard or one with top spin. To complete the whole thing you can use the right trigger to do a powerserve.
These powerserve’s are a bit more complex than the standard serve. You can a shuffle that goes up and down like a madman and you need to let go of the trigger when it’s nicely in the middle, otherwise you’ll hit the ball our or in the net. When you win points, your ITZ (“In The Zone”) meter gets filled. The more full, the slower the shuffle moves. This doesn’t only serves for your serve, during the game, with the right trigger you can do a Risc shot which is much harder than an average ball, while the left trigger will give you the possibility for a drop shot. Luckily you don’t have to use a powershot to hit a hard ball. If you’re in place in time and press the accompanying button you’ll start to “load” although you can’t visually see it from the hit. The ball will fly over the field with a real bullet trail behind it which is pretty cool to watch.
Also the rest of the graphical violence is present. Characters move as fluent as streaming water, tennis balls bounce realistically from the surroundings (advertisement boards in the back, chairs, legs of other players,…), when doing a slide you’ll see a marking appear on the field which remains visible for the rest of the game and when making a nice point the audience will stand up to applaud. Actually, the audience always stands up to applaud as it’s the only movement they’re capable of doing.
Conclusion: After three tries it finally happened. Xbox has a worthy tennis game. Microsoft hits an ace with Top Spin. The sound is present without disturbing, the graphics are sublime and the game is really fluent. Only downpoints are the too simpel/monotone minigames and the huge difference in difficulty between local tournaments to Grand Slams.