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Top Spin 2

Platform(s): Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360
Genre: Sports
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: PAM

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X360 Review - 'Top Spin 2'

by Nicolus Baslock on June 4, 2006 @ 2:25 a.m. PDT

Experience the pro tour in venues that are alive and dynamic with environmental elements that react to your play. Characters are even more stunning with the addition of HD technology and the inclusion of the top players in the world like Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Roger Federer. Put it all online and you once again have the greatest tennis game ever created.

Genre: Sports
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: 2K Sports
Release Date: March 30, 2006

The first Top Spin was a critical and commercial success, satisfyingly catering to hardcore tennis fans and those just looking for a great time. With Top Spin 2 for the Xbox 360, 2K Sports deliver a decent sequel that will leave fans asking for more.

Graphically, this is a big upgrade from the already great-looking Xbox version of Top Spin, and all of the expected gloss of a next-generation system is present and accounted for. Models are detailed, and the likenesses of celebrity players are spot-on to their real-life counterparts. Various courts from around the world also look great, and a bit more goes on in the background, but courts are still courts, so aside from the different surfaces, the effects to the player are minimal.

The biggest graphical problem is a strange over-animation issue that seems to come up occasionally. Players swing at the ball, but if they are a few steps back, they will just miss entirely, leading to an irritating point for the other player. Although its occurrence is not continuous, it seemed to rear its head at the most inopportune times. With an additional focus on the momentum system this year, allowing points in big matches can be huge for the other player.

Scoring points still allows you to gain momentum, as well as the ability to get inside your opponent's head by taunting them after you score a point. On the flip side, when you are scored upon, you can have the classic John McEnroe-like tantrum by throwing your racket on the ground or expressing a variety of other motions.

Adding to the already-diverse array of available shots, the X360 version features two new ones, each of which alters your approach just enough to warrant a challenge for seasoned veterans. The risk shot allows players to use a slightly … riskier shot than normal, and the intensity of the shot is determined by the power level with which the shot is struck. Unfortunately, this does not work as well as planned, with there being a lot of difficulty in getting the ball to fall where you would like, especially in the early goings. Unlike a rookie mode in Madden, where the kicker's meter moves a bit slower, here the meter moves ridiculously fast, thus making it tough for beginners to really nail down that all-important shot. Also added this year is advanced shots, which further the strategy involved. Each shot takes away a bit of your momentum but can be devastating, especially in match points.

All of the different shots lead to an incredibly satisfying playing dynamic. The strategy involved in Top Spin 2 far exceeds any other current tennis game, as players must calculate their shot selection perfectly, especially against this ridiculously skilled A.I. The forehand-versus-backhand debate becomes a split-second decision in your mind while playing this tennis title, which is a sign of its engrossing gameplay. In fact, I would put Top Spin 2 in the same category as many of the other strategy-heavy sports games.

As many sports game do, Top Spin 2 features a create-a-player mode, which allows players to engineer the next Bjorn Borg or Anna Kournikova (hopefully with more winning and less magazine cover shoots for the latter). From there, a career mode awaits, featuring practice modes and tournaments in which to participate. A host of mini-games exist for players to increase their star rating, which is the experience and stat-building system of the game.

Career mode itself is incredibly slow moving, and the mini-games are irritating after repeated play, mainly because of all the time spent staring at loading screens. As games are completed, you complete career milestones, which increase your world ranking and allow you to earn more money with successive victories. You can also save the game at any point during tournament play, so for those who have played the first iteration, you no longer need to set aside a block of time before starting up a tournament. Going forward, you can also gain new sponsors and deck out your player as you see fit.

Top Spin 2 is a great game that is meant to be played with others. Players can then take their avatars online to play others in singles or doubles matches, or use the in-game stars to face opponents. The gameplay works fine, and when I could find other players, I didn't experience any distracting lag or anything else that detracted from the game.

If playing multiplayer with a friend sitting next to you, there are also a few "party games" to enjoy. The selection is strangely pared down, and there are only three different games, but luckily, they all offer a decent time and throw a few Mario Party-esque features into already-stellar gameplay. A time bomb mode has players basically playing hot potato, a paint mode leaves marks over an opponent's side of the court, and finally, there's a mode where you must destroy another player's wall while protecting your own with well-timed shots. The different play types are nice additions, but having a wider selection would have made the multiplayer portion of the game that much more enjoyable.

One of the key problems that developed for me while playing Top Spin 2 was that no matter what my rating was, the A.I. was just plain better. A.I.-controlled opponents with lower ratings or rankings consistently beat me in matches, mainly because of the computer's fury-inducing ability to always be in the right place and never miss shots. This would be fine if there weren't some strange control issues that make playing the game really frustrating after long periods of time.

Characters remain really loose, meaning finesse shots are sometimes impossible to make because players are all over the place. For instance, there were numerous times when an easy shot might have scored a point, but because I expected my player to react quicker, I would miss a shot by a foot or more. It's unfortunate when such great gameplay mechanics are in place and silly little issues like this hack away at the enjoyment level to the point where you get really bothered while playing.

Top Spin 2 is a really fun game, so it really is too bad that so many nagging issues hurt its overall gameplay. The spotty player movement, slightly difficult-to-control shots and almost too highly skilled A.I. take what could have been a classic and make it into just a great game. It's still a fun game for tennis aficionados or those just interested in the next generation of Pong, so even if you don't know your Sharapovas from your Federers, it's still worth a shot.

Score: 8.1/10


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