Tennis games certainly have come a long way since their humble beginning as Pong, the world’s first video game on Atari back in 1972. Today in 2008, though the premise remains the same — get the ball past the opposition — the mechanics of doing so have changed considerably.
With the Federer — Nadal rivalry drawing in a whole new generation of tennis fans worldwide, as well as New Zealand’s latest golden girl Marina Erakovic raising the profile on the homefront, it would seem TopSpin 3’s timing is impeccable.
A quick word of advice — don’t jump straight into a match after first inserting the disc, this will likely result in ten minutes of pure frustration before writing the game off as a pointless endeavour. The best place to start for all, TopSpin veterans and newbies alike, is the training mode where players can begin to get a grasp on the fairly complex control scheme. Unlike most tennis games, this isn’t simply a pick up and play arcade game; this is simulation at its finest.
The controls are based upon a two touch, pull back and then swing instead of the regular hold the button down and let the CPU do the rest for you. The timing of this has to be faultless for a good shot and gets trickier and trickier to time as the opposition varies the speed of their returns.
Position is also vitally important, be too close to the ball and it’ll pop right up in the air whilst stretching too far out and it’s unlikely to clear the net. Whilst there’s a steep learning curve here, the pay off far outweighs the time taken to effectively use it.
The bulk of the content is found in the career mode, which focuses around a typical rags to riches scenario and you take your player from an unknown amateur to the next Federer. First you’ll have to create your player which is no easy feat, the in-depth character creator allows you to mould and tweak your player until they appear to your liking. Don’t forget your objective though, because hours can be lost getting that jaw shape just right.
Once those eyes are just the right size, you can begin gaining experience points and playing tournaments. The points you earn can be used to improve your players various attributes or kit them out with the latest in merchandise including outfits, racquets, sunglasses, accessories and of course, shoes. Because this is taking the serious route to tennis, none of the fun little mini-games from Virtual Tennis are included so sadly, there is no ten-pin tennis.
Aside from the career mode, there’s the regular selection of modes fans of the series will have come accustomed to. There’s exhibition matches in which you and up to three of your mates can have a match in both singles and doubles as well as a selection of tournaments and tutorials that can be played both off and online.
For these modes, there’s a sizeable selection of players to choose from, featuring players from both the past and present like Federer and Sharapova and some of those from the past like Bjorn Borg and Monical Seles, makes for some enticing matchups. A notable omission from the 360 version is Rafael Nadal who is exclusively on the PS3.
The presentation as expected is top notch with superb graphical models and animation. Clothes and hair sway in the breeze and move so realistically with the players that it could easily be mistaken for Wimbledon on telly. The courts are marvellous, bright environments and stadiums featuring all the usual content as well as some out there locations – like the marble court neighbouring a waterfall. The sound effects are excellent too and the menus are nicely complemented with a range of recognisable contemporary bands.
TopSpin 3 is an excellent simulation game for tennis fans presenting a challenging and deep alternative for those who detested the arcade fell of Virtua Tennis. Though the lack of mini-games and steep learning curve will alienate a number of players, they are clearly outside the targeted audience. Overall though, the only real complaint that can be made is the lack of Rafael Nadal on 360. The excellent career mode, great controls and stunning graphics make this a genuine contender for sports game of the year.