Top Spin 2 Xbox 360 Review

Video tennis has come a long way since the dawn of video games with Pong. Over the years those black and white blocks have evolved into little stick men and then to realistic looking people with the gameplay taking similar leaps, making the jump to 3D graphics and again with real world physics coming into effect. Evolution pretty much hit a brick wall in 1999 with the release of Sega’s Virtua Tennis. For the most part people assumed that the genre had hit its pinnacle with it’s realistic graphics, pick up and play gameplay and sheer addictiveness. Virtua Tennis seemed to be as good as it could get. Four years later, Top Spin arrived and knocked Virtua Tennis off its perch. It retained the pick up and play feel of Virtua Tennis, but added depth to the gameplay without breaking the well-tested formula. Another three years down the line and we reach today. Top Spin 2 has arrived, but does it push the genre like its predecessor did?

Graphics

Visually Top Spin 2 doesn’t look a great deal different from the original – character models are detailed realistically and easily recognisable from their real world counterparts. The courts follow suite being realistic and nearly indistinguishable from the real location. They are also interactive with your player leaving tracks as they slide across the clay courts and ball boys coming into play when you hit the net. Everything looks much the same as before, but on closer inspection there are some slight improvements. Lighting effects are the most obvious with the sunlight shining off skin very nicely – it even reflects off the playing surface a bit, giving your player a very slight greenish tint when playing on grass. Apart from that, other not so obvious improvements are the addition of high definition and an increase of detail to go with it. The clothing effects are also improved with the material moving more fluidly. These aren’t big improvements overall and don’t quite hit the photo realism of something like Fight Night Round 3, but still it’s a very nice looking game and on first glance you could easily mistake it for a real match on the telly.

Gameplay

Like the graphics aspects, the core gameplay of Top Spin 2 has little changed from the original, but again appearances are deceptive. Your basic returns are unchanged with safe shots, spins, slices and volleys all going off the controllers face buttons, but the risk and counter shots have both been refined. Now rather than just having one type of shot for each using the controllers’ triggers, this time you get four each by using the face buttons in conjunction with the triggers. This gives you a lot more flexibility when you get into one of those long rallies and you need to pull something different out of your hat to give you the edge. Fortunately this addition to the available set of moves is very intuitive and doesn’t hamper the pick up and playability that made the original so addictive.

Whilst the core gameplay remains pretty much the same, the game’s career mode has had a major revamp. Firstly when starting a career you have to create a player and to do this you use an improved version of the original Top Spin‘s create-a-player mode. This is one of the best of its kind available, giving you every option needed to create anybody you can imagine and you should have no problem creating either a virtual version of yourself or the player of your dreams. Once you have your player, it’s into career mode. Gone is the world map that was so unashamedly ‘borrowed’ from Virtua Tennis and this time ’round, career mode is now calendar based. What this means is you can no longer do whatever you feel like whenever you want in the career, now you are limited to playing through seasons being given an option twice a month. The options open to you are categorized into training, tournaments and special events. The training is essential to your success in career mode – it’s the only way to improve your basic stats.

Your player stats have taken a major upgrade from the original, now having eleven attributes rather than the original’s four. You also get three different types of stars to earn in each category – bronze, silver and gold. Bronze stars are earned in training mode by playing through a choice of exercises with each exercise giving you three stars to add to your stats. Silver and gold stars are earned by playing well in tournaments or special events, but can never exceed the amount of bronze stars you have already earned. Tournaments are all real world events and like the real events you can only enter depending on your world rank.

You’ll have to start off in the regional tournaments, but as you play and your rank improves, more are opened up to you – majors, masters and grand slam events are all available once you are ranked high enough. Then there are the special events; these range from challenges from pro players, to charity events and tournaments run by sponsors. One of the players you will get challenged by in the special events category is your rival – this will be the first player from your player’s country of origin that you play against. During your career they will send you messages taunting you as well as making the occasional challenge. Their challenges are not to be scoffed at either, although the first time you play them they are a pushover. But by the time they challenge you they are a world class player and not easily defeated. All in all, career mode is a lot more in-depth than before and if there’s any complaint with it it’s the amount and length of loading times you have to endure.

As well as career mode, the game also gives you the option to play exhibition games with up to 4 players, and of course the new addition of tournaments. Unfortunately tournaments cannot be played online as they were in the original due to the demise of Microsoft’s XSN franchise. Another new addition is the three party games, time bomb where you keep time on your clock by winning points, wall breaker where one player defends a wall of boxes while the other tries to knock them down, and splash court where winning points splatters paint over your opponents side of the court. These seem like a bit of a last minute addition, but due to the game’s easy-to-grasp gameplay, they could well be just the thing when you’ve got some mates over.

The game’s online mode can be played as either singles or doubles matches. Unfortunately doubles matches have to be played with two people on two Xbox 360s. Player matches support both singles and doubles and you can use any of the pro players as well as any players you have used in career mode. Ranked matches are limited to singles play, and you have to use a player from career mode. The online game plays just as well as the single player with lag occurring very infrequently, but due to player limitations it isn’t the most sociable of games online.

Sound

As to be expected from a tennis game, sound isn’t Top Spin 2‘s strongest point – that’s not to say anything is wrong with it, but as with a real tennis match it’s not what’s going to wow you about it. Sound effects are realistic enough, the sound of balls getting hit, the players’ grunts, the call of ‘fault’, all could be lifted straight from a real game (and probably are). Aside from the basic effects, other sound is determined by where you are playing. The big venues will have an announcer reading the scores in the appropriate language for locale and a cheering crowd. Smaller venues give you the appropriate reduction in crowd noise and no announcer, but you do get the bonus of a little background music. This like the announcer’s voice is determined by where in the world you are – when you play in Mexico you get a little Mexican band playing in the background, a Greek band in Greece and so on. Where the sound really falls down though is in the messages you get from your trainer during career mode. It’s some of the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard, and all the different trainers voices sound like they’ve been done by two people, a guy for the male trainers and a girl for the female ones, and all the accents sound badly put on. How hard would it have been for them to get in some actors hailing from the appropriate places of the trainers’ nationality?

Lifespan

Due to the simple and repetitive nature of the gameplay, you would have thought this wouldn’t be a game that would last you too long, but it’s addictive gameplay and a long and absorbing career mode just eats up those hours with a single career potentially taking up to 30 hours or more to complete. Then there’s the multiplayer which will keep you coming back for more time and time again. One thing’s for sure – you’ll get your money’s worth out of this game.

Overall

What we have here is the best tennis game on the market if you love Tennis or just like some simple addictive gameplay. You can’t go wrong here. The long and frequent loading times detract a little from it when you can’t wait to get into the action, but after a thumb achingly long match you’ll welcome the extra resting time it affords your hands. Highly recommended for tennis fans and non-tennis fans alike.

8.4 out of 10

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