Tennis games are fun. In fact, the actual sport of tennis is fun; it's a constantly moving sport where the players never stop, not for one second. Plus, there's just something extremely satisfying about pummeling a tennis ball back and forth. With games like Pong and Breakout being as popular as they were back in the days (after all, they are essentially ultra-simple games of tennis), it's no wonder that Top Spin and Sega's Virtua Tennis are so addictive.
Earlier last year Sega released their third Virtua Tennis game, but 2K Games would soon announce the third iteration of their sim Top Spin. While both games share the same sport in common, there's no question that Top Spin is the realistic game between the two, where as Virtua Tennis is largely arcade. We've got the final build of Top Spin 3 in our hands, and from what we gather with our playtime, thus far, this is good stuff.
Upon beginning a match in Top Spin 3, my biggest mistake was thinking that I was playing Virtua Tennis 3. I promptly ended the match and entered the Top Spin School mode for the training bits to get a feel for the game and understand its mechanics. Admittedly, this is the first time I'm playing a Top Spin game, so I was a bit foreign to its gameplay. Regardless, the training sessions taught me how to put to use the game's timing and work it in as a rhythm; the key is to tap one of the action buttons just as the ball hits your side. Once you begin to work with that rhythm, you'll then begin to get a feel for pre-loading shots for harder returns.
Pre-loading is done by holding down one of the three swing buttons as the ball approaches you. To hit the ball, the same concept applies, release the pre-loaded button as soon as the ball bounces on your side of the court. Of course, aiming the hit by pointing the left-analog stick a certain direction is a must if you want to keep your opponent running all around the court.
The pace of the action is noticeably slower in Top Spin 3 than Virtua Tennis 3, but chalk that up to the game's realism. Players won't dive at every nearby shot like they do in Virtua Tennis, so the game won't compensate for any of your downfalls – if you miss a shot, it's gone. If you'd like to further increase the challenge, you've got five difficulty choices to pick from.
A full fledged Player Creator has been put together for Top Spin 3, as well. At the creation screen, you'll first choose a template model to work; these templates range in body size, skin tone, gender, and ethnicity. Between this sentence and the last, I spent about 45 minutes toying around and creating my own player, that should give you an idea of just how deep the system is.
I will mention that the game does perform a mandatory install onto your PlayStation 3's HDD, but it's definitely better off for it. Load times during the player creation process are very responsive, much faster than other sports games that exhibit notable delays when you're scrolling through customizable selections such as faces, hair, eyes, and so forth. Besides the Player Creator, load times for matches are also pretty good.
One of my favorite parts of Top Spin is an iteration of 2K's Swing Stick that's been implemented to the controls. When serving, you pull back on the right analog stick, time it right, and then push forward to make contact, sending the ball to your opponent's side. The mechanics get a bit tricky, but timing is the most crucial aspect to succeeding; you'll want to push forward just as the ball reaches its peak point, before coming down. In addition to serves, you can use the analog stick for special shots such as slicing and lobbing, as well.
With a full fledged Career mode that'll allow you take your created player through the ranks, there's a lot to like about Top Spin 3. Tennis fans looking for a more realistic approach should find themselves content when the game launches next week. Stay posted for our review.