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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Microsoft

 

Developer

Power and Magic

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

October 2003

 

 

- Best sport title released this year

- Awesome blend of arcade and strategic styles of gameplay

- Totally authentic sponsors and athletes

- Virtua Tennis x 10

- Xbox Live

 

 

- Where are Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick??

 

 

Review: Perfect Ace Pro Tournament Tennis (PC)

Review: Tennis Masters Series 2003 (PC)

 

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Top Spin

Score: 9.5 / 10

I’ll be the first to admit that Tennis has become abysmal. TV ratings have dropped steadily over the last year, the William sisters have lost their appeal, and there hasn’t been a Tennis “God” since the reign of Sampras. Let’s face it; Tennis is now lower in ratings than Rugby. With all those facts in effect, Tennis can still be rather fun…when played through video games. Virtua Tennis showed everyone that a bad sport can be turned into a fun game. Top Spin takes this to an all new level.

 

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Before heading out onto the court, a player must be created. Top Spin introduces a simple, yet sophisticated system of creating your character. This isn’t a “pick a face from the list and play” system. It’s more like: “do anything you want with your face…hell, make it look just like you” system. Everything can be changed with your character to make it look almost exactly like you, or pretty damn close. From the break of your nose to the size of your lips, this is the most in-depth player creation system possibly made. In fact, it is so well done that it borders on being scary. Because of this, make sure someone is holding your hand during the process.

 

Unlike other sport titles, Top Spin has a very simple and clear-cut gameplay system. Simply hitting the A button will return the ball regardless of where it is hit. However, for the more strategic players, making use of the other buttons (lob, slice, and top-spin) will add a new dimension to the game, sometimes resulting in more action during a game. It is possible to play an entire tournament without the use of “skilled” shots, but it will be difficult against harder opponents.

 

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Games are played through a series of tournaments. When first starting off, you’ll notice that most of the tournaments are locked. That’s because your character must first gain a higher ranking in order to qualify for the more prestigious matches. The smaller tournaments will set you against the bottom of the barrel, in terms of skilled players, leaving the tournament to be a piece of cake. As time goes by however the difficulty of the tournaments become much greater. So, to make sure you at least return a serve in a Grand Slam tournament, you must first gain skill.

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Gaining skill has its ups and downs. Skill can be gained in several areas: Serve, Forehand, Backhand, and Volley. Depending on what type of player you want to become, you are allowed to spread your skill across any of those fields. There is one catch (there always has to be one). You only have 14 skill points to spend across the fields, where the max of each is 5. You don’t have to be a mathematician to realize there isn’t enough to go around for every filed. This causes you to think of which skills will come in handy for your gaming style, and from there you can go into training.

 

The training is usually the easiest part of the game, except maybe starting it. The style is very similar to Virtua Tennis’, where there are a series of targets spread across the ground, and you are told to hit the corresponding one with a certain shot type. Sounds easy, right? Well, it is. The training is done in a flash and when it’s done, you are given a “skill star” to your skill. You’ll notice right away in a match that the skill is a great asset, so don’t waste any time getting your training done first, before entering matches.

 

To ensure quality and authenticity, Microsoft went to extreme lengths in order to create a realistic feel. Looking around the stadiums you’ll find many well known companies such as: MasterCard, Nextel, Jaguar, Lacoste, as well as several others. One of my favorite features was the ability to gain sponsorship from a clothing line. Among the list are Reebok, Adidas, Yonex, K-Swiss, Prince, Oakley, and Wilson. Each sponsor requires you to play a “test match” to make certain you are worthy to wear their label. After the relatively easy match, you receive new gear. Shirts, shorts, and shoes are among your newly gained apparel, which look much better than the generic clothing handed out.

 

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The best part about Microsoft’s spending spree is the number of real life Tennis stars, including the masterful Pete Sampras. Though he is one of the best Tennis players of all time, he is a very easy opponent. In fact, you’ll find out that some of the more underrated players are more challenging. Keep your eyes open at all times! Among the list of stars are: Anna Kournakova (That’s right guys, you can now “play” with her), Michael Chang, Gustavo Kuerten, Jean-Michael Gambill, and others.

 

Top Spin’s graphics are some of the finest seen to date. The capability of the Xbox can use this game as its prime example. Textures, animations, and player faces are taken to an all new level, making Top Spin among the top 5 finest games on the Xbox (graphically speaking).

 

The crowd animation is the best I’ve seen in any sport title. The reactions are a bit exaggerated, but still, utter perfection. The crowd reacts to your playing style, either giving you standing ovations or merely clapping resentfully out of spite. To gain their approval, you must win constantly, and hit more power shots. If you keep a steady playing style filled with powerful shots, you’ll see your crowd meter filling up. Once it’s in the max, power shots and risk shots become easier to hit. Winning the crowd is a valuable advantage in a tight game when in need of a big shot.

 

The sound and music is on par with most games, though little touches standout. For example: when playing in France the judges (announcer) voice is in a different language. Can you guess which one? Not Portuguese, but French! This adds slightly more realism, but wasn’t needed for the solid gameplay covers most everything else. 

 

You won’t find a better sport game than Top Spin in this year’s batch, and maybe not until next years. Top Spin mixes in arcade style gameplay with never before seen realism, topped off with the best graphics and detail in any sport game. For those of you out there who are complaining that “once you beat all the tournaments, there is nothing else to do”. I’ve got two words for you: Xbox Live. And with EA games giving PS2 all the online capabilities, Top Spin is the best counterattack you can find. It almost sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? In that case, wake your ass up and buy this game! Who knows, it might even give Tennis some decent ratings.*

 

- Eric Lahiji

(November 15, 2003)

 

*No it won’t

 

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