Video Games

Video Game Review: Top Spin 3

Tennis is a strange sport for a video game. I think you’d be hard pressed to find 5 people you know who own a console and play tennis competitively. Now, most people don’t play football either but that doesn’t stop Madden from being a juggernaut franchise. The difference though is that everyone watches football while high level tennis television ratings are about equal to the John Deere Classic in golf. Didn’t see it? Don’t worry — nobody else did either.

So why make a game that has no players and no TV audience? Well, because you can actually take your time to make a polished game. Without yearly refreshes and tight deadlines, you can do something like completely revamp your controls and create a game that makes sense. While EA is busy making games for kids on the short bus and your grandmother (All Play!), 2K Sports went the opposite route and made Top Spin 3 harder than ever. So while the learning curve is pretty steep, Top Spin 3 is absolutely worth it.

After months of Wii Sports Tennis, picking up Top Spin 3 is like going from first grade straight to college. My advice to you: spend a lot of time in Top Spin School. The tutorial will teach you all the new mechanics and give you advice on timing. While it can be really frustrating at first, the new Top Spin swing system actually makes a lot of sense.

In most tennis games, you press a button to swing. In TS3, you press a button to prepare and then release to swing. This sounds pretty simple but you have to unlearn all the years of playing any kind of tennis or baseball game where you hit buttons to make contact. Trust me, telling your brain to release to swing can be quite difficult but you’ll get the hang of it after a while. My second piece of advice to you is to play a lot of tennis against Very Easy computer opponents before heading off to Xbox Live to play others around the world. The computer AI isn’t messing around in normal mode. They hardly ever make poor shots and will destroy you as quickly as they can.

Characters and Career Mode
I’d love to tell you more about the 40 or so characters in the game but since I don’t watch tennis, I either play with Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, or Boris Becker. I have no idea if any of the other available players are real or fictional. (Sorry ATP, maybe you should do a better job of promoting your players.) In any case, you have the option of playing with the stock players (Rafael Nadal only available on the PS3 version) or creating your own player and putting him/her through career mode and having him improve and move up until he reaches the professional ranks. This isn’t my cup of tea and I suppose it’s for the same geeks who play 30 years of Madden in franchise mode but it’s good to know it’s there in case you are one of those dorks. You can also take your created player on the road in World Tour mode on Xbox live and try to be the best dork player in the world.

Top Spin 3 is a gorgeous game graphically and hands down better than Virtua Tennis 3. The animations are fluid and the players look almost like they do in real life. After the complete disappointment that was MLB 2K8 (where every player looked like they had a small animal running around in their jersey), the clothing, hair, skin, and sweat effects in Top Spin 3 are much improved.

The game also includes a bunch of excellent real life tournaments (US Open, French Open, Australian Open with only Wimbledon missing from the Grand Slam) and stadiums. While the crowd isn’t exactly important, they look realistic enough so that it’s not distracting how unrealistic they are. Meanwhile, the stadiums also sport some authentic-looking advertisements. Granted, I have no idea if those banners actually exist on those courts but they blend in well with the environment and don’t stick out like, say, a billboard at the Linc where the skyline should be… ahem… Madden.

The sound is the only complaint I have about this game. The sound effects are fine but the soundtrack is absolutely putrid. I’ve been told there are a few songs in the game but I only seem to hear the same song over and over and I want to kill someone every time I hear it. I’m sure the black panthers didn’t want their song “revolution has come / time to pick up the gun” to be used for a tennis game. For the record, the song is “5,6,5,6,7,8” by The Go! Team and they all should be sho. But I digress…

Final Rating
Outside of the soundtrack, there’s not much to complain about for Top Spin 3. It’s hard as hell to pick up but once you do, you’ll realize that the new swing mechanics make more sense than the old run to the ball and hit a button style. Timing is much more crucial in this iteration and it’ll take a lot of practice before you get it right. But once you do, you’ll be rewarded with the best tennis game ever created. If you’re looking for a simple pick up and play tennis game, stick to Wii Sports or something like Sega Superstar Tennis. For my money, I’ll take Top Spin 3 as my tennis sim. Ball’s in your court, Virtua Tennis.

9 out of 10

By Vin

Vin is a Philly boy who shouldn't be invited into your house because he'll judge you on your book and music collection. He owns Dawkins, Utley, Iverson, and Lindros jerseys, which is all you really need to know about him. He can be reached at [email protected].

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