Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: 2K Sports
Release Date: June 23, 2008
2K Sports' Top Spin 3 for the Wii is proof positive that console sales numbers in the current generation are not the best determinant in going after total market coverage. Further, in the Wii Sports pack-in title, the inclusion of simple, fun and, back then, truly unique tennis and golf Wiimote-based games have unfortunately opened the door for a parade of Wii sports titles featuring anything you can swing. The foremost problem is that the Wii Sports game included with all Wii consoles is really the only Wii sports title to feature something akin to swinging; almost every other studio has created its own definition of what it means "to swing" a racquet, club, bat, two-by-four with a nail through it, or what have you.
There's actually some good reason for this. All slights about lazy, sofa-hugging gamers aside, gamers are indeed accustomed to settling down for play sessions relaxed in physical posture, if not in mind. If you have to move all the furniture in the living room and go through an upper-body workout not entirely unlike a real tennis match, just for two players to have a go at Top Spin 3 or any other racquet sport, you're going to lose a lot of buyers right there. Instead, we get numerous variations of motion, from hacking to slashing, to other sorts of things instructed by nebulous, confusing tutorials that read something like, Pull the Wii Remote back, then push it forward, then swing the Wii Remote down. Am I playing tennis or fending off a midnight burglar with a hastily grabbed kitchen knife?
So far, 2K's Rockstar Games studio is the only bunch I've seen manage a Wii racquet-sport control system, in Table Tennis, that's much fun at all, save the original Wii Sports control scheme, which itself is entertaining, though perhaps not something you're always up for playing. Mind you, Rockstar Games' Table Tennis isn't much like table tennis, either — which earned the game mostly mediocre, or flat-out poor, reviews — but the studio did manage to create a sofa-friendly control scheme of nuanced gestures. Once you got the hang of it, Table Tennis was a blast to play, and I really did, for once, miss the absence of online two-on-two competition — a lamentable standard in third-party Wii sports titles. Due to Nintendo's lack of enthusiastic, simplified support for online play, Top Spin 3 is, per usual, missing online competition; the game suffers for it, but only in the sense that it's a blank in the feature-list column: Most sports game enthusiasts will become bored or frustrated with Top Spin 3 long before they'd ever care that they can't play in an online competition.
Besides the yet-another-great-idea effort of Wiimote control, Top Spin 3 is also hobbled by the nominal attempt to "scale down" graphics from the other two high-end HD graphics systems to the Wii's really rather contemporarily backwards standard-definition hardware. At this point, I'm convinced that Nintendo should make publishers sign a contract stipulating that they'll compel studios to redesign from the ground up all graphics for the Wii versions of their titles. This should cull quite a few chaff games. After all, Wii is in great part based on GameCube architecture, and so many third-party titles were near-stunning on GameCube compared not only to generational siblings PlayStation 2 and Xbox but also, ridiculously, put up against brand-new Wii titles. What happened? Well, for one thing, obviously, a lot of third-party GameCube games, whether versions of titles also released for other platforms or totally exclusive material, were designed specifically for GameCube.
The environments in Top Spin 3 are acceptable. The court surfaces look fine, some of them quite good; and the fact spectators look like mere stand-ins for final graphics that never made it into the game detracts from the atmosphere but doesn't hamper gameplay. The character models of the licensed professional tennis players are another matter and are frankly awful. Gameplay animations are worse and almost seem like an afterthought, although, granted, it's got to be a chore to realistically animate bad character models.
Here's the point in Wii graphics: If you're going to make a Wii version of your game, don't phone in a feature-stripped, graphically bankrupt version of a full-service game released on competing platforms. Acknowledge Wii's limitations along with its unique strong suits, and design the game from the ground up for Wii. (For example, in Top Spin 3, cartoon caricatures of the pro players would have looked and animated far better than the attempt at realism. Sure, 2K Sports might have been accused of "ripping off" the Wii Sports version of tennis, but I think better is an accusation of being derivative, and turning out a good game, than being some semblance of "original" yet delivering just a shadow version of a game clearly designed for other platforms.) While I'm at it, for studios charged with churning out Wii versions of games, please, please, don't go reinventing the wheel every time you chart out a Wiimote control scheme. I could have accepted 2K borrowing verbatim from Rockstar for their rather good racquet sports Wii control, but otherwise, even gamers who've never played tennis know a backhand for a backhand and a forehand for a forehand, not as reenactments of the signature shower scene from Hitchcock's "Psycho".
Audio and music in Top Spin 3 are lackluster. This is not a function of Wii's two-channel Dolby ProLogic II limitation. It's just lackluster sound.
This version of Top Spin features three main modes: Exhibition, the game's single-player pick-up-and-play mode; Road to Glory, what passes for career mode; and Top Spin 3's attempt at multiplayer, Party Games. The Keys mode can be played as singles or doubles, awarding "keys" for different skill objectives, making the mode play more like a training exercise for the single-player game than a true party game. Invincible Man accommodates up to four players, although it's nothing but a video game version of venerable, stale round-robin singles matches.
It should be clear by now that I'm in favor of doing away with unnecessary Wii versions of games that are far better suited, or dwarfed in scope and quality, by essentially the same titles released for other consoles. But I'll go so far as to stand up, officially, against cranking out a Wii version just to have a white box on the market. I get the marketing angle, of course. Wii sells so well, and it already has such a substantial installed base that a Wii release looks like a surefire way to push a multi-platform game well into profitability. Here's what I don't get: The attach rate, the number of games gamers buy for their Wiis, is consistently the lowest of all consoles — so how, exactly, does a Wii release add all that much to the bottom line? Perhaps I just don't know how great the game rental market is these days. But, further, there are scads more PlayStation 2s, in multiple colors and hardware designs that are still happily fulfilling their game-playing duties. Additionally, Sony is still indeed manufacturing and supporting the platform, and gamers still buy lots of games for the PlayStation 2. If you want to chalk up some serious sales by yakking out a half-assed version of your HD console titles, why not put it on a PlayStation 2 disc?
It's games like Top Spin 3 that make it painfully clear of why critically slammed but well-suited Wii titles like Carnival Games are such sleeper hits for the console. The Wii version of Top Spin 3 has a feature now common in quite a few golf and tennis games, the ability to make your character express enthusiasm or anger after a point. This is accomplished by holding the B button, then waving around the Wiimote and Nunchuk. Unfortunately, I never could find the proper combination of controller movements to hang my head and sob. Top Spin 3 is best left to Wii-owning children who are pro tennis enthusiasts and can forgive the shady graphics, restrictive game modes and overall unfinished feel of the game.
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