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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Top Spin 4 review!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Review: 2K Czech makes tennis fun again with, Top Spin 4.
This review will be entirely pun free. You will not hear any jokes about how much I “love-love” the game, nor will you hear me discuss this game’s many “advantages”. Get it? Advantages, like the score after deuce? Anyway…
The thing is, there really isn’t any need to fall back on puns and cheap rhetoric. I may anyway, but there is no need to, because Top Spin 4 is a game that speaks for itself. It is a video game that will keeps fans of tennis happy for a long time, and may even have some crossover appeal–if it can convince players to try it, which will be difficult because it doesn’t offer much in way of features that will appeal to non-tennis aficionados, but the gameplay is worth a look for any fans of sports games.
But more than that, and where this game aces—sorry–this game bests its predecessor and other competitors is that it retains the intricate play controls that make mastering the game an achievement, but it also offers a style that is accessible to new players.
Top Spin 4 is a game that anyone could pick up and have fun with. There is even a party game mode for four players that will likely be played for the first time by fans that have never tried a tennis video game before, and yet they should enjoy it. And yet it will keep players coming back to attempt to master the system, which will not be easy. That variable level of difficulty, along with a ridiculously deep career mode make Top Spin 4 the best tennis game out right now, and a great overall sports game in its own right.

Hit a Button!  But With Feeling.
Top Spin 4 features a decent list of current and historical players, several real life and imagined courts and an incredible amount of customization for your created character. All of which is nice, but none of that means a thing if the gameplay doesn’t satisfy.
Tennis games can be a tricky beast to capture. On paper you might think it is a simple matter of hitting the ball, running, and hitting the ball again. It is pong, just prettier and with grunting. And in the past, many tennis games did just that. You hit the ball, you move, and you hit it again. Fun!
Top Spin 4 has managed a balance of making the game fun for anyone to play, and offering a level of intricacy to the way you hit the ball that makes it worth the time of people looking for depth in their tennis games. When you line up for a hit, you have the standard options of a flat shot, top spin (naturally, or the title would be awfully stupid), slice shot and lobs. Then you have the amount of power you want to use. If you hold down the button, a circle will begin to fill. The longer you hold it, the more powerful—and potentially more wild the shot will be. Tapping the button will give you precision at the cost of power, while something in between will give you a normal shot.
The thing that makes it difficult to master is the timing, which you need to judge based on your character’s animation. You don’t need to be perfect, but if you time it to release just as your character is striking the ball, and assuming you are in the right position and began your backswing at the right time, you will vastly improve the speed, location and trajectory of the shot. When you do strike it, you will receive a quick grade of sorts, telling you if you were too early, too late, good, or perfect.
It is a simple mechanic in theory, but in practice it is one that will take a long, long time to perfect. It isn’t something you need to master to enjoy playing the game, but it will keep you coming back to try to improve.
The serving is also handled in the same way, which is good and bad. It keeps things consistent, but it takes away the sense that the serving is a unique and vital component to the game. You expect a quick mechanism when you are returning a ball, but for serving it feels like there could have been more to it. Once you get used to it though, the serving is similarly difficult to master, but easy to accomplish if you just want to get it in play.
Service, Please
The game serves up—sorry, sorry—the game offers up several game modes including a four person round robin, training, and of course an exhibition (aka play now) mode, but the real bulk of the game is in the career mode.
Beginning with the create a character options which are detailed bordering on insane, you are given the option to customize just about every possible facial feature you could imagine. There is also a huge selection of clothes, racquets, hair styles, even tattoos that will take time to sort through. Once you have created your avatar, you are then taken to a career menu that will give you so many options that it can be overwhelming at first. Thankfully the tutorial recognizes this and gradually introduces you to the things you can do.
At first you are a lowly grunt on the tennis circuit, perhaps fresh out of a country club where you taught soccer moms the proper way to backhand. That is perhaps something you will have to imagine on your own, but you do start low on the totem poll and need to work your way up.
As you play through matches, exhibitions and tournaments, you will earn experience through simply winning, as well as through completing specific objectives that pop up, like win a point with a drop shot, or serve an ace. These aren’t necessary to complete to advance, but they help you level up faster.
Once you have enough points, you can increase your skills. Rather than just choosing the obvious stuff like more power, speed, better service, etc, you unlock classes that suit your play. If you want to be a serve and volley player, there is a choice for that, just like there is a choice to be a better baseline player. You choose the type of style you want to use on court, and from there you will be able to customize your player to suit your actual gameplay style.
As you advance through your career, you will begin to eventually see some familiar names, but if you want to beat Rafael Nadal, you will need to prove you belong and earn your way up the world rankings to enter the tournaments that players like Nadal and Roger Federer will be in.
Top Spin 4’s career mode is the most impressive of any tennis game’s career mode without question. You won’t be able to create the uber-tennis star that ignites the ball on fire with every stroke due to his tremendous awesomeness. Instead you will have to find a balance that accentuates your advantages while minimizing your weaknesses. It isn’t quite as deep as some other career modes that have you doing things off the court, like signing appearances, but what there is more than enough to keep you playing for a long time.
Agassi and Sampras Return to Snipe at Each Other Digitally
The exhibition mode is where many will first venture when they turn this game on, and the list of possible players for you to choose is impressive. The top names are all there, but that is expected. The real fun is being able to play with some classic players, like Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Ivan Lendl, and even Bjorn Borg to name just a few.
Each player looks good, and the character animations are top notch, but most of the characters seem to be interchangeable when it comes to those animations, and you won’t see too many unique styles of movement in the various players. That is an admitedly minor complaint.
There are a few things noticeably missing from the game—almost certainly due to legal concerns—which is a shame. A few names you might hope to see, like Arthur Ashe or John McEnroe, are absent, but most notably is the omission of Wimbledon. There is a stand in for it, and it really shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is a shame.
Tennis, Anyone?
Playing Top Spin 4’s career mode is where you will find the most depth, but the multiplayer options are also worth checking out. You and your friends can join together to play a doubles game or tournament, which is surprisingly well honed. In the past, most tennis doubles games were a matter of both players running and trying to hit the ball, which frequently resulted in a point for the other team as you and your friend look back and forth at each other and begin to plot the others death, but in a friendly way. The doubles in Top Spin 4 allows only one player at a time to begin their swing. It is a minor thing, and doubles is a small part of the game, but it shows a fair amount of thought behind it.
Playing against your friends is also an option, but it–like the doubles—are somewhat minor parts to a bigger game. The online, however, has been revamped with a ranking system, as well as unranked matches.
It is something that will be fun for the casual gamer as a distraction, but hardcore fans of the game might find themselves obsessively watching the rankings to see where they stand. The online isn’t the focus of the game, but it is a welcome addition.
The Faults
For as much good as the game offers, there isn’t a lot that will win over non-tennis fans. 2K Games of late have either been amazing or average. They are always well made, but where NBA2K11 deservedly won several sports game of the year awards, MLB2K11 is just a good game. Top Spin 4 falls between the two. It is the best tennis game out (although the upcoming Virtual Tennis 4 will try to challenge that), but it isn’t a game that will win over sports fans from other genres, as NBA2K11 did.
That might sound unfair, but Top Spin 4 doesn’t really offer any surprises. What it does, it does very well, but it doesn’t create anything new and exciting. The inclusion of some tennis greats is also cool, but the missing players and the absence of Wimbledon hurts the game.
If you are a fan of tennis, then you will love Top Spin 4. If you are a sports fan in general, Top Spin 4 is worth a look, although it may not have enough to keep your attention.
The game looks great, and the technical features, including the sound, camera and animations are all well done. The online mode is also appealing, although you will need to already be a fan of the game to really enjoy it—it won’t win you over on its own.
In general, Top Spin 4 is a game with a lot to love. The advantages are easy to see, and although there are some faults along the way, the title serves up a powerful offering that will have fans returning to it. Sorry, couldn’t resist.


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