Top Spin 2 Review
|Release Date:||April 7, 2006 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Paul Lowton (KendoMonkey)|
|Buy now at Amazon.co.uk|
Tennis is a sport that's been surprisingly overlooked over the years, possibly because every tennis game that does get developed must automatically be compared to Sega's classic Virtua Tennis. For most developers, it's a comparison that invariably sees these new games put in the shade. Top Spin 2, I'm happy to say, is definitely an exception to that rule - it plays beautifully, looks great, and is easy to pick up and play, whilst being very difficult to master.
Playing the game on an HD television is a definite plus, if anything the extra resolution (whilst clearly showing off the engine to its utmost) actually helps you play. When playing on the far side of the court, the camera angle does make it slightly more difficult to play. On an HD television I found it easier to play the angles than on a standard TV. A minor point, perhaps, but any advantage you can get in this game is worth taking.
Yep - Top Spin 2 is difficult! Or rather, it's difficult to master, I certainly feel like I haven't mastered it after many, many hours of play. The controls are intuitive enough: The (A) button is the game's "safe swing", meaning that so long as you time your player to hit the ball correctly, your shot will always be returned in the bounds of the court. When playing any type of shot, the left analog stick alters the direction and depth of your shot, but with (A), you'll never return out of bounds. Handy. However, clearly you are not going to win many rallies by hammering the (A) button, and you'll need the variation the other controls afford you. The (B) button is my favourite, a topspin shot providing power and speed. The (X) button is a sliced shot, handy when approaching the net and "passing" a player. The (Y) button is for a lob shot, the most difficult to master shot in my opinion and practically useless unless you're either very brave or very skilled. In my experience, try a lob shot and you'll get smashed. And not in a good way.
These controls are extended by combination use of the right and left shoulder buttons which create Risk Shots and Advanced Shots, respectively. The risk shots in particular are (and now it just seems like I haven't mastered the controls at all!) very difficult to use, and again, in my opinion are only to be tried by the brave or experienced. When attempting a risk shot a meter will pop-up - keep the buttons held down and the meter will rise and once in the optimum range, release the button and your shot will be struck beautifully, with power, vigour and accuracy. Except it's so difficult to keep an eye on the meter, the ball and your opponents position… and then time the release, that I found myself only using the facility on first serve, where there is the "get out clause" of the second serve.
But I really can't whine about it too much, I don't mind that a game is hard to play when it's so eminently playable! Top Spin 2 is one of the most fun sports games I've played, and certainly on the Xbox 360. Game modes are split into Tournament, Exhibition and Career modes. My favourite would have to be the Career mode, which splits the game into weekly chunks, during which you can choose to train or enter a tournament (if you're sufficiently qualified!).
First off you have to "create" your character using tools which can define every part of the human body, from very specific facial features, to your bulk. You can make some real freaks with this system, which is always fun, especially when you see them racing around the tennis court
Training involves either 1-on-1 sessions with your trainer (ooh, er) or fun mini-games where, for example, you have to hit the ball into a brick wall which falls apart for points, or a weird ten-pin bowling game where you hit the tennis ball at a massive bowling ball and knock over pins for points. The only slight irritation is the loading time between these events. It's not that it's particularly lengthy, but some of the training events are so short that it required patience to play, especially when starting out. The training itself not only helps you personally build you control skills, but also awards your character with "stars" which you can assign to the various parts of your player's own skills, such as Aggression, Service, Stamina, and so on.
The career mode is all about gaining rank and you begin the game ranked 200 in the world. Soon (hopefully!) you'll find yourself moving up that ladder as you begin to play in matches. You'll start by only moving up one or two places at a time, but naturally the further you go in tournaments, the more you'll advance and you'll receive a real sense of achievement. Be warned though, this game takes time to play - a full tournament could easily take an hour and a half to complete, if you go all the way.
Graphically Top Spin 2 is lovely, the player animation is well modelled and for the most part fluid. The courts themselves range from outdoor clay public courts to the green-green grass of Wimbledon. The detail separating the different types of court and playing surface are well handled, from chattering locals and renditions of "La Bamba" in the public courts, to the public silence and player's grunts in the championship venues.
I have really enjoyed Top Spin 2 playing so far, and I think others will too. You don't need to know a lot about tennis to enjoy it, the controls are intuitive and you do get a true sense of achievement from choosing the correct combinations of moves to blast the ball past your opponent, even if attempting the "better" shots does get frustrating. The detail is solid, from the courts to the player models, to the background sounds of soles squeaking and players grunting. I really liked that playing the game didn't feel wholly serious and whilst it can get very tense during some matches, little details like the background sound effects from the public are funny and give the game a heightened sense of levity.
- Lots of fun and very slick
- Good presentation
- Easy to pick up and play
Not so good stuff
- Difficult to master the controls
- Loading times can be frustrating during training
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