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Top Spin 4 Review

25 March 2011

Out of every possible use of the PlayStation Move, a tennis game makes the most sense to me. Sure, using the precise controller as a sword or a gun is cool, but slapping a ball around a virtual court with Move seems like something everyone can enjoy. Luckily for me, Top Spin 4 is the solid motion-controlled tennis game I’ve been looking for. No, it’s not perfect, but Top Spin 4 plus Move offers plenty of enjoyment, even for the non-tennis fan.

2K Sports has continually offered a realistic tennis experience in its Top Spin series. Just about every issue from Top Spin 3 has been ironed out and the streamlined approach to the fourth installment makes it accessible, easy to learn, and fun for all ability levels. Even with some simplification in the basic gameplay, veteran players and tennis fans will find quite a bit of depth — the biggest highlight for this crowd of enthusiasts is the authenticity of actual tennis shots. The improved animation system gives real life tennis players their true-to-life play styles and reactions. Top Spin 4 packs quite a punch for tennis fans, but even if you don’t know an Agassi from a Nadal, it’s still a blast to play a few matches.

The addition of Move support to Top Spin 4 is one of the biggest selling points for PlayStation 3 owners. When I first gave it a try I was impressed at how accurately the Move controller matched my desired swing speed and direction. I play tennis in real life; actually, I played tennis in real life. It’s been several years since I put any real time into the sport, but I was pretty good at it when I was a teenager. Needless to say, I had high expectations of how the game should react to my racket’s (Move controller’s) position, how hard I swung, and the placement of my wrist. Despite a few odd issues with the controller not properly recognizing a backhand versus a forehand, the Move controller does a great job of recognizing all those intricate movements of a Sunday-afternoon tennis player.

There is a bit of a delay, but once you recognize this issue, it’s easy to work around it. Again, it’s not completely perfect, but it sure beats anything on the Wii for authenticity and enjoyment. It’s quite a workout, too, and not just because you physically have to swing harder to get powerful shots. You control your tennis avatar with a navigation controller, or standard controller’s left analog stick. Once you get your player in perfect position, you then use the same controller function (the analog stick) to place your shot. This is all a bit much to get used to for people who aren’t used to gaming, say your girlfriend or uncle.

Top Spin 4 does not require Move, of course, and the game is still a lot of fun to play on a standard controller. Shots are again mapped to the face buttons (top spin, lob, slice, and flat) and how long you hold down the buttons will determine shot strength. If you want to send a fast top spin shot to the right back court, you would hold down the circle button until the on-screen gauge fills up (represented by a line that eventually draws a complete circle next to your character). You’ll also have to aim your shot with the analog stick, just as you would when using Move.

The trickiest part of the actual gameplay is timing — true of the actual sport, too. Getting the most out of your shots requires you to make contact with the ball at just the right time. 2K Czech set up a system to let you know if your timing is off. The game wants you to let go of the shot button just before your character swings. If done correctly, an onscreen prompt will let you know you hit a “good” or a “perfect” shot. You can hit up the Top Spin Academy to really fine-tune your play style and understand the basics. These training sessions really help you master the gameplay — plus, shattering glass with tennis balls has always been a hidden desire of mine. Master this system, shot strength, and placement, and you’ll be ready to take on the best around the world.

Regardless of how well you master the gameplay mechanics, you will have your chance to challenge the big names in the sport through the career mode. The character creation tool works just fine and the quick progression means you can get into the real action in no time. You start of as a rookie, of course, and grow though the ranks until you are ready to play in the big leagues. The best part about the career mode, which actually speaks to the game design as a whole, is the fact that you can’t max out all of your player’s abilities. For instance, you can create a strong serve and volley player, or a good baseline player, but you can’t create a god-like master. The best real life players have their own weaknesses, and this remains true in the game. Beating the best, then, requires some great strategy. One of the more successful strategies is to wear out your opponent before slamming a power shot just out of reach. Taking the game online works quite well, too. You can take part in ranked and non-ranked matches, and you can always keep an eye on the leaderboards.

There is a great variety in tournaments and licensed events, but there are some missing. One of my biggest complaints with the game, and this may seem like a stretch to some, is the lack of authenticity in surfaces. All surfaces are different in real life. For example, carpet or lawn generally provides little bounce, while a hard surface gives much more bounce. In Top Spin 4, they just don't feel that different. Clay is the one exception; the developers worked hard to give this surface an authentic feel. It will take some time to learn how to slide into a shot, but I wanted more from each surface. This sounds like a petty complaint, but in a one-on-one sport, every little aspect makes a difference. Other minor irritations include repetitive music and some graphic issues with the appearance of real players, but these are not noticeable enough to draw attention away from the enjoyable gameplay experience.

Top Spin 4 is a great step for tennis video games, cleverly joining an authentic experience with a streamlined approach to the gameplay. The addition of Move offers yet another reason to own Sony’s motion controller and true-to-life play style only raises the bar for the series' competition. There is plenty to offer hardcore and casual tennis fans, and above all it’s easy to learn and fun to play — what else could you ask for from a video game?

-The Final Word-

2K Czech serves up an ace with Top Spin 4 through authentic gameplay and animations, plus a new streamlined approach throughout the entire game.
  • Authentic and accessible gameplay
  • Deep career and online modes
  • Move is quite fun (but not perfect)
  • Lack of variety and subtlety in court surfaces
  • Dull music and some character replication issues
9.0
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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