When it comes to tennis games most people fall into one of two camps; Team Top Spin or Team Virtua Tennis. It’s kind of like Twilight’s Team Edward vs. Team Jacob battle, although with less emo pouting, less sparkly vampires but, oddly enough, more zombies (in Virtua Tennis 3’s case).
The Top Spin series has always been considered the hardcore option when choosing a tennis game; the Ying to Virtua Tennis’ fruit dodging Yang. Some people, however, felt that Top Spin 3 went a step too far by ditching what had come to be the norm in terms of controls, and implementing a system that not many people felt comfortable with. This is all set to change as Top Spin 4 seems to have returned to a more traditional scheme, whilst also throwing motion control in for good measure.
Don’t get me wrong, using Move is fun for a bit of a laugh when you want to pop on for a quick exhibition match, but for those who are serious about progressing far into the career mode the DualShock 3 is what you want to be using. It’s a shame really, as if the precision we know the Move is capable of had been fully utilized this control scheme would have been something very special indeed.
Using the DualShock 3 increases accuracy ten-fold, but strips away the simplicity of using the Move. The square, circle and X button are all mapped to various different shot types, whilst pressing the triangle button will perform a lob. Holding R1 will see you rush the net; whilst combining it with one of the face buttons will see you serve and rush the net in preparation for a volley.
You then have to take into consideration your shot timings, as if you hold and release the shot button at just the right time you’ll get a ‘perfect’, more powerful shot. If you release too soon you aren’t penalised, but too late will see your shot power reduced, or it may even go out. As with other tennis games any shot can be directed to various parts of the court, with the addition of being able to drop it closer to the net or belt it right towards to back line. Care is needed though, as too much pressure either way will see the ball sail way over the line, along with the corresponding “OUT!”
Mastered that? Fantastic, now you’re ready for power shots and control shots. Holding down any of the shot buttons will see a circle appear and fill with red. Once the circle has filled completely you are ready for a power shot which, as the name suggests, ups the power but also decreases accuracy. The control shot is the power shot’s counterpart, forsaking power for pinpoint accuracy which may catch your opponent off guard or, at the very least, unsettle them. Stamina also plays a part, with a gauge that is on display during a rally. Green means you’re raring to go, yellow indicates that you’re slightly winded, orange means you’re heavily winded and red is for “uh oh”.
As you can see there is a lot to get to grips with, and your opponent will generally force you to mix and match your play style, so a trip to the Top Spin Academy is most definitely recommended. The Academy is essentially a fancy tutorial, guiding you though basic and advanced shots and tactics and generally helping you get to grips with gameplay mechanics. The next step you want to take is to dive into Top Spin 4’s character creation mode. It’s fairly in-depth, allowing you to modify looks, clothes, stance, although it is the only creation tool I’ve used where I haven’t been able to recreate a decent version of myself.
Out of all Top Spin 4’s modes, Career mode is where you will be spending most of your time. The objective is to take your created character and rise through the ranks month by month. You will earn the right to participate in minor and major tournaments, as well as one-off special events. Every win/loss will earn you XP which you can plough into upgrading your character. Throughout Career mode you rank up in two ways; one sees you gain a level based on XP, whilst the other sees you fulfill certain objectives such as ‘gain 45,000 fans’, with you eventually being given a title such as ‘Rookie’. These titles are the key to being invited to bigger and better tournaments.
If you play well enough in Career mode you will be approached by a coach. Each coach has a rank, be it bronze, silver, or gold, and they all bring with them benefits such as upgraded stats. It isn’t as easy as that though, as you have to unlock these coach skills by completing a set number of in-match objectives. It sounds like a hassle, but the boost your coach will provide could be the difference between a tournament win, and second place.
King of the Court mode sees you and up to three other friends compete in a ‘winner stays on’ bunch of singles matches. Whilst it lacks any sort of depth, it’s still a lot of fun and can be played verses the computer. There is also an exhibition mode for when you just want to nip on for a quick match.
Once you’ve done all of this there is a positively humongous online mode to tackle, which is comprised of normal verses matches, an online World Tour mode where you can enter your created character into a tournament online, and a 2K Open mode where you pick a real life pro and try and reach rank number one. There really is so much to do here, but it’s worth noting that the servers weren’t exactly heaving during my play-through.
In terms of presentation, Top Spin 4 is definitely easy on the eye. From the TV style camera angles showing players waiting to be announced, to the nicely detailed and instantly recognizable character models, there are few complaints. What’s also pleasing is that the players don’t have that listless stare that has plagued tennis games in the past. The courtside atmosphere has also been handled well, with ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ and screams of excitement when a player pulls off a shot that looked lost – this is especially effective when playing with the Move controller as you do feel more immersed in the matchb. What isn’t so great is the way the crowds have been animated, especially when you see them in the replays. They all simultaneously burst into a synchronized round of applause before stopping dead, like someone has flicked a switch. It’s such a bizarre and downright creepy thing to behold!
- Looks good
- Plays well
- Lots of content
- An online mode that’s stuffed to bursting
- Move feels tacked on
Overall I’m very impressed with Top Spin 4. Whilst it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, everything it does bring is refined to within an inch of its life. It looks nice, it plays superbly, and it is deeper than a conversation with Professor Brian Cox. Your move, SEGA.