Power and Magic
Microsoft
Sports
1-4
10.28.03

Top Spin


Top Spin is an XSN Sports title, which automatically means Live online play. Top Spin is the first tennis console game to be online. The developer, Power and Magic, must have seriously used Virtua Tennis as their guide, because Top Spin feels like the new age Virtua Tennis.

Gameplay

The main modes of play are exhibition, custom tournament, career, multiplayer, and tennis school. Tennis school is one of the main options, but there is not much to interact with here, just watch and read how to hit certain shots. You can play 2-player games in exhibition (singes or doubles), but the multiplayer option is for system link and Xbox Live. Exhibition can be either singles or doubles, and you can pick to play with the men or women. You can also choose what ever venue you'd like to play in. Each court has a different surface, so you'll hear squeaky sneakers or silence.

So you go to career mode, and start up your own character. There are so many different options you can choose while creating your player. There are face options (chin, nose, eyes), hairstyle, muscle size, clothing, and accessory options for you to build with. You can even choose your serve type, making it highly customizable.

So now that that's all settled, you come to a world map. Here, you must find a sponsor. Finish the sponsor challenge, get some new gear, and start competing in a tournament. Sponsors consist of Adidas, Reebok, Prince, Wilson, etc. There is a lot of load time in this game, and this is one of the longest loading Xbox games I have ever played. So anyway, you start ranked 100, which is last place. You're going to have to travel around the world to get the different types of coaches for forehand, serving, volley, and backhand. You get 14 career stars to build up those masteries. You get stars on your stats when you successfully complete one of the masteries. There's three levels of coaches: bronze, silver, and gold. You received advanced skills as you move up to the higher levels.

Top Spin's gameplay is similar to Sega's Virtua Tennis, just a lot more in depth. There are five different types of serving techniques, and six different shot types. I don't remember Virtua Tennis having this many options. The A button is used for the "flat/safe" shot (or serve). If you don't feel like being risky, this shot is the simplest as it can get. The B button is the "top spin" hit. This produces a foreword spin on the ball, resulting in a higher bounce. The X button is used for the "slice" shot. This shot keeps the ball low, and has backspin. Y is used for the lob shot, which is a shot that has a very high arc on it. The R button serves as the "risk shot", and is performed by holding the button down and releasing it in the center of the risk meter. If your ITZ is high, then your "risk shot" won't be as risky as usual. The ITZ meter stands for "In the Zone", and is raised by hitting great shots, and getting the crowd into it. Finally, the last type of shot is your "drop shot". This is carried out by using the L button, and is similar to the risk shot in terms of having a risk meter. While serving, the L button is used for the underhand "spoon" serve. Like I said before, there are many ways to return and serve the ball to the other side of the net.

In between each serve, after a point is scored there's an "attitude now" option. By pressing the white or black button you can show excitement or frustration. That is a pretty nice option to incorporate into the game because it gives a feeling of control over your opponent.

During the gameplay you'll notice sponsors like Penn that make the game authentic. You'll also see regular companies that don't make tennis products like FedEx and Pepsi. One of the cool features included in this game are real life tennis stars such as, Pete Sampras, Martina Hingis, and Anna Kournikova. Smooth online gameplay is where Top Spin stands out. You can play either ranked or unranked. Playing in tournaments, and starting your own league is an awesome XSN option, and of course present in Top Spin.

As far as the actual control is concerned, like I said before, it is very similar to Virtua Tennis. Top Spin's engine feels 90% the same as Virtua Tennis, but there are so many more options (like risk shot, and the ITZ meter), that make it way better then Sega's tennis game.

Graphics

The visuals in Top Spin are great to look at. All the tennis arenas are packed with true-life aspects. The courts are done to perfection, and some of them have great backgrounds (if your not in an actual stadium). The crowd in the Grand Slam stadium is very nice to look at, while the backgrounds in the Playground courts are beautifully detailed in the backgrounds. When your in practice mode, the balls will be scattered all over the court, which something realistic, except the balls seem to be there before you start. I followed where a loose ball landed, but then it disappeared on the next serve. Also, there are the "ball-getter" people, but they never seem to run after any balls. They always look like they are ready to run though. The player models never look the same because of the uniqueness and customization, and are pretty accurate to their real life counterparts.

The graphics are using a lot of the Xbox's power, and our probably some of the best high-quality graphics that we've seen, and been accustomed to. When you do a power shot, the blur of the ball is nice to look at and has a nice heat effect to it. There are a lot of different viewing angles to switch to, but I recommend keeping it to the default.

Sound

While there is no music during the official competitions, the menu music is amazing. I really like the main menu music as well as the world map from the career menu. And the music in the training sessions is good too. Sounds of the game are very realistic. I am not the avid tennis fan, but I think some type of commentary would have been nice. Sometimes it can get so boring with just the sounds of tennis balls being hit, and the sounds of player's grunts. I guess they were aiming for the authentic tennis feel, and it's here.

Bottom Line:

If you got friends to play with or Xbox Live, then this game deserves a purchase. If you don't have Xbox Live, you might want to rent it first, especially if you're not a die-hard tennis fan. Tennis fans should buy it without question. Fans of Sega's Virtua Tennis should also buy this with no hesitation. The amount of options and modes of play designate Top Spin to be a top Xbox and XSN Sports title.

-Steve Melanson




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