XBOX 360 REVIEW: TOP SPIN 2

Easy to recommend as it's the only tennis game going, but it's improvements over the original will be appreciated by former fans. by Vaughn Smith

April 11, 2006 - In the beginning there was Pong. And it was good...Yada Yada Yada...Virtua Tennis, Mario Tennis, Top Spin and now Top Spin 2. How was that for fast forwarding through the annals of gaming history? I've just spent two days playing Top Spin 2 and I'm pooped. That's hard work moving my little tennis pro around like that. I'm tired just watching the poor guy.

Top Spin 2 continues in the tradition of PAM's (Power and Magic) original game released for the Xbox and PS2. This is definitely good news if you've played Top Spin before, as the game seems to be targetted slightly more to returning champions, than complete noobs. Top Spin 2 is not an easy game to master, although it's as "pick up and play" as Mario Tennis; at first. To completely master Top Spin 2 you'll have to practice your ass off, quite possibly as much as you'd have to if you wanted to be a real tennis star. Top Spin 2 can be quite unforgiving as you progress. If I had a racket, I would have smashed it against the wall a few times. John McEnroe ain't got nothing on me.

Those wanting to jump in to have a quick game before learning the basics will assume that Exhibition mode is the place to be. Wrong. I say this from experience. 24 real life pros are waiting for you in there and they are maxed out and looking for fight. I had egg on my face pretty quick. I was returning volleys like Billy Jean King, but I wasn't scoring any points. I had absolutely no finesse, even though my chosen player had attributes up his little tennis shorts. I quickly skulked into the career mode, which incidently is made for noobs. Noobs just like me! Having not played Top Spin for awhile, I was quite rusty.

Before you can get to the career mode, you have to create a player (or throw caution to the wind and randomize it with a gentle press of the X button). You'll spend all sorts of times adjusting your players chin and forehead - the most inane details I've noodled with yet in a game - and then you'll take your creation to training mode where some nice guy just gives you $200,000 coin to play with. Sweet! No need to take this tennis thing any further...can I leave now with the cash? Training will teach you how to play the game via little cutesy tennis mini-games like trying to serve the ball into the glowing areas or returning the tennis balls so that they hit large bowling balls which then knock over piins. There are quite a few training areas and truth be told, I would have preferred a 5 minute no nonsense tutorial and how to play the damn game. The loading times are excruciating as you have to wade through numerous screens just to return to the training mode, not to mention having to endure that acoustic guitar rock tune over and over and over and over. Eventually you'll be able to enter a tournament where more than likely you'll get your ass handed to you, which means it's right back to training.

Indie Built/PAM listened to that old adage "don't fix what's not broken" so you'll find Top Spin 2 plays and handles virtually the same as the original game. What makes the Top Spin series so revered is the amount of shots at your disposal. Each face button functions as a type of shot, volley or serve and can be modified depending on the situation. Serves are available in three varieties: safe, topspin and slice - while shots are broken down into safe, topspin, slice and lob. Volleys at the net are similar but if used correctly can make or break a particularly tough match. Risk shots/serves and advanced shots help to fine tune your style and while hard to master, are an absolute necessity. You won't get far without these in your repertoire. Advanced shots are obtained by completing special traning sessions and they are worth their weight in gold. It's too bad they aren't available at the outset as I found even the novice levels more than a little challenging.

In terms of control, you won't find too much to complain about. If you haven't played Top Spin previously, getting the timing down of the more advanced shots which require holding down the LT or RT buttons will take some getting used to. This forces you to only rely on these shots when it's absolutely safe to do, otherwise you risk giving your opponent the point or even the match. Playing with 2 or more players is effortless, although we found it most preferable when our characters were positioned close. It's a bit of an adjustment playing when your character is on the other side of the court, but since the game switches back and forth, everyone will be at the same disadvantage.

Visually Top Spin looks nice - but if you've seen the recent releases on the X360 you won't be blown away - after all this is tennis we're talking about. The character and court models look very good and the animation is smooth. I especially liked the little "attitude" flourishes you can activate with the bumpers after you've either aced it or blown it. I'm pretty sure my guy was really foul-mouthed, but I couldn't really hear him. Too bad, because when I screwed up, he looked pretty pissed off.

Top Spin 2 is one of those niche titles. I'm not very big into tennis and I imagine those that are, prefer to play the real game. Perhaps it was my lack of real interest or the length of time since I played the first game, but the challenge level was a little intimidating. When playing against other human players I found that I enjoyed it far more. With real pros and real courts, Top Spin 2 will easily be a hit with the racket and ball crowd who enjoy playing their X360 more than hitting the courts.

By Vaughn Smith
CCC Site Director

Rating out of 5
Top Spin 2 (X360)
4.0
Graphics
Everything looks very good...for a tennis game. Some of it's quite visually impressive.
4.5
Control
It's all good. It will take time to master new shots - especially when to use them.
3.3
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Good sound effects and crowd effects. Wasn't crazy about some of the music though.
4.8
Play Value
Definitely a lot of play value here.
3.9
Overall Rating - Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: X360
Dev: Indie Built/PAM
Pub: 2K Games
Release: Apr 2006
Players: 1 - 4
Review by Vaughn

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best