Developer: 2K Czech / Publisher: 2K Sports / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price $59.99 / ESRB: Everyone (No Descriptors)
I’ve come to terms with not becoming the next big thing in the game of tennis, or in any sport for that matter. Not having the time to train and practice constantly (or the money to fund my career), I have settled with playing matches with my friends every now and then, and that’s been working well. But being at Roland Garros, holding the French Open championship trophy up to my lips, and hearing the roar of the crowd behind me is still a dream. Featuring an in-depth create-a-player mode, tight controls, and a roster of current and past professional tennis stars, Top Spin 4 is the closest the majority of us (including myself) will get to actually being the world’s best.
Top Spin 4 is a tennis simulation, and not an arcade tennis game like the Mario Tennis series. Forehands, backhands, drop shots, slices, and the titular top spin are the name of the game. Actual tennis players will notice the accuracy Top Spin 4 has to the actual game. A very helpful training mode explains the basic and advanced mechanics of the game, and even tennis veterans will find something of use from going through it.
There are plenty of game modes in Top Spin 4, but the one you’ll most likely spend the most time on in the single-player Career Mode. In Career Mode you’ll create your own character with a comprehensive list of qualities and characteristics, such as height, weight, skin tone, and even the frequency your player grunts in games. Your new tennis wannabe starts as a lowly amateur playing in small tournaments and works his way up the circuit gaining more fans and popularity until eventually playing in the grand slam tournaments with the big guns of the game like Roger Federer or Serena Williams. Playing tennis matches, whether winning or losing, nets you experience points you use to upgrade your character’s skills. A range of stats such as forehand, backhand, service, and volley strength can be improved, as well as general abilities like stamina, reflexes, and speed. This system is rewarding and lets you customize your player as you desire. After gaining some recognition you’ll be invited to TV shows, charity exhibitions, and private lessons that earn you more fans or experience. Hiring a coach and accomplishing their training goals like hitting a certain number of forehand winners or performing a well timed drop shot gives your character bonuses abilities and increased stats, further deepening the customization.
Your goal in World Tour mode is still to take your created player to the top of the rankings ladder, but instead of doing so against the computer your doing so against actual other players over Xbox Live. Beating higher ranked opponents will increase your World Tour ranking while still earning your character experience. The game makes sure only players of similar ranking and skill levels match up against one another, so every match is always a good challenge. The World Tour rankings are set to a weekly time limit, and after each designated amount of time has passed all rankings are reset and a new season starts. World Tour and Career Mode combine to make for a lot of tennis, and the games never stop being fun, challenging, and rewarding. Players wanting a simpler game away from the thrills of these modes can play Exhibition mode and set up match rules and start playing immediately.
Tennis is a complicated game. There are different ways to hit the ball, certain areas to aim the ball, and the way the ball spins can make all the difference. With this in mind, it’s rather incredible how Top Spin 4 handles. The face buttons determine the type of shot: forehand, backhand, lob, or flat. Flat shots are basic hits, slice shots have under-spin and stay low, while forehand shots bounce higher when they hit the ground. The shoulder buttons modify the type of shot hit. The left trigger allows you to run around the ball and hit an inside-out shot, and the right trigger executes a drop shot that lands just after the net. Depending on how you hit each button affects the type of shot used. Holding the face button down will perform a powerful shot, while tapping the button before the ball gets to you performs a less powerful but more accurate shot. To help with timing, a rating will appear above your head after each hit, informing you if you were too late, too early, or perfect in your swing. A convenient marker is placed on the court designated where the ball will land, and the left control stick responds well. Don’t get me wrong, the controls are complicated, but after some practice (and after doing the extremely helpful training sessions) you’ll be rallying with the best of them. The control scheme is one of the best I’ve seen in any tennis game, and really makes you feel like you’re actually playing a game of tennis.
Top Spin 4 stands out graphically as one of the best looking tennis games out there. Realistic character portraits and models bring the world’s best tennis stars to life. The amount of detail that went into creating each of the pros is astounding, but might be missed by non-tennis fans. Each of the pros moves in the game as they would in real life: Roger Federer utilizes his unique one-handed backhand, Andy Roddick has his signature quick serve, and Rafael Nadal grunts after pretty much every shot hit. Grass courts get physically matted as you play, and foot prints get left behind on clay courts. Players will get sweaty and dirty as matches progress, and will cheer themselves on or give a fist pump after a particularly long rally. Audience members are fully developed models and react to points by moving, shouting, and cheering players on. The only graphical faults are seen when looking at things up close, where faces look distorted and a bit creepy. You might chuckle at some of the facial animations, but this is just a minor flaw with an otherwise superb presentation.
Top Spin 4 is the best game of tennis around. The robust Career and World Tour modes offer up an amazing and in-depth game of tennis that fans of the sports will love. Even if you’ve never picked up a racquet in your life, Top Spin 4 is still a great game that is hard to put down. The controls, while requiring some time to get used to, are intuitive. The game looks great graphically outside some blemishes when looked at closely. The good overwhelmingly outweighs the bad, making Top Spin 4 the game for the tennis elite.