It is mind boggling how a tennis game that started with such potential on the original Xbox has become one of the saddest stories of development. When games like Virtua Tennis were still king, the original Top Spin dare to challenge our sporting senses with a brand new graphical tour-de-force with addictive gaming experience including Xbox Live elements.
Ever since Top Spin 2 however, the wind of change has been slowly creeping by our racket heads as Virtua Tennis 3 regained its status. The response to this is now of course Top Spin 3, however if we are to find a rewarding tennis experience, we will need the patience of a saint and a strong determination to battle our immediate frustrations.
Top Spin gives us the lush graphical qualities we have come to expect, such as the realistically moving clothes, fine detail in both courts and players and slinky animation. The problem though lies in the execution of bringing all of this splendour together. Your first few hours of Top Spin 3 will be a horrific journey of learning, that has been made no easier with the awful tutorial system that bombards you with text and no examples.
The key demonstrated is timing, however really it is mastering the power of a shot. Let this be the piece of advice that will save you from much heartache. Read carefully, read again and then share with your frustrated friends…
Unlike many other tennis games, Top Spin 3 has one difference that can be capitalised on, if only you knew about it from the start. When you hit the ball, you can immediately start pressing one of the shot buttons instantly, yes I mean right away, yet still move around the court with the shot button still held down, releasing again at the right moment (timing is of course still a factor) to execute a power house blast in to your opponents now seemly timid skills. This one bit of simple advice will allow you to enjoy Top Spin 3, as simple as that.
Before you master this, you will be wondering however why your players animations are jerky, your returns weak and your overall experience tedious. This is the main failing of Top Spin 3, it completely overwhelms you with new techniques for controlling your player, yet totally disregards the learning experience by introducing you to all manner of difficult training sessions that instead shows you how to trade in your new tennis game, rather than expanding on your knowledge.
Key controller differences include using LB and RB buttons to move back and forward either away or toward the net. This is important for those who love to volley. As far as serving goes, you can also choose to serve with the right analogue stick. This is one of the major benefits of the new control scheme as it allows you to feel far more engaged that other titles such as Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf introduced many moons ago.
Risk Shots remain, that is the extremely powerful smashes that can be almost impossible to pull off as they more often than not shoot out of allowed court boundaries, but the usefulness of this feature within a rally is a sign of desperation rather than a point winner.
There are many current tennis professionals available including Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray, while also including some classic greats including Borris Becker and Bjorn Borg. Stadiums feature the playground type basic courts that have lush surroundings and quirky landmarks, leading right up to the more grand slam approach. Although some of the licenses are crucially missing such as Wimbledon, representations are available, just a shame we haven’t been lavished with well known events.
Clay, grass and hard courts are selectable and react just as you would expect. The trademark sliding along the floor on clay is still as bizarre and dare I say enjoyable as it has always been.
So as I have listed some positives now, onto another grey area that will also add to your grief. The music in Top Spin 3 is a repetitive and if you forgive the pun, pointless endeavour or odd choices and bizarre clips. Everytime you win a match, you get a short clip of a tune and you know from the very first time that very quickly it will be annoying and yes you will be right. My second piece of advice is to turn the music off instantly.
After the mess of Top Spin school, you then create your own unique player. This provides the means to fully customise your appearance, be it type of eye colour, eye size and if that isn’t enough, you can even stretch certain areas of the players attributes manually as well for the ultimate in uniqueness. Quite fancy it has to be said.
Career mode will take you on the usual trek to legend status, by flinging wave after wave of tournaments towards you, while rewarding you with experience that can be used to raise your skill levels such as power, backhand, serving etc and points that can be exchanged for clothing and equipment. You then finish off with by taking on a few legends and then onto the next modes…
‘Tournaments’ mode is as it sounds, a range of tournaments to tackle and then On-line will no doubt interest you. Player matches will allow you to select any of the tennis professionals, but if you want Ranked games, you will be forced to use your custom player with all his personalised skill attributes, both good and bad so be warned. Not something you can take on immediately, in fact far from it. There is also no on-line doubles unless you have your doubles partner on the same Xbox. This is not ideal, however after experience a little lag in singles and how it affects your timing precision, this is probably for the best.
One last couple of niggles before I leave you with my final thoughts. When you are serving, and your first serve strays out, which quite frankly will happen, it is part of tennis, however your opponent will still smugly celebrate at the other end of the court. I don’t know about you, but this is just bad sportsmanship and seeing as realism was the overall aim of Top Spin 3, well you just lost out there.
The best has to be the tips that appear during loading. Makes sense I hear you say to display something that will instruct you on how to get the most out of Top Spin 3, but even these appear and disappear in a flash. They are completely unreadable and just adds insult to injury after attempting the so called Tennis School they provide.
Top Spin 3 is actually one of the better tennis games I have played in some time, however its ridiculously weak tutorial system will completely put off the potential gamers before they even have the chance to see the same kind of admiration I have.
This is indeed the tennis game that has taken huge risks by changing a lot of the control methods and for the most part it actually works surprisingly well, however you then have to follow up such drastic alterations by guiding us poor folks who have to learn it. Top Spin 3 fails miserably in teaching you in every department, leading straight into the feeling of despair and wasted money.
This monumental error can totally obliterate the appeal of Top Spin 3, but only if you let it. If you can get past the nasty taste in your mouth at the start, you may actually find a decent tennis game lurking beneath the shambles on the surface, but I dare you to try that hard!