So, apparently 2K Sports were answering a desperate cry when they put together this tennis simulation for our lovable little motion sensitive friend. No, seriously. I Googled it, and we all know that you simply don’t… doubt… Google. There are forums world over clustered with tennis fans who - while they have fun with Wii Tennis - want to sink their teeth into something a bit more realistic. Apparently (stop laughing) it’s been considered that the Wii had a real lack of tennis games.
The hole’s been filled by this one, there’s no doubt. Looking at it, playing it, you get the sense that this is the tennis game all those fanboys have been waiting for; they’ll probably love it. But for the part of casual sports sims fans and those who like to get a little more oomph from their games, it falls kinda short. What I loved about Wii Sports, including Tennis, was its accessibility. Top Spin 3 is anything but. The measure of a great sports sim is one that will take people who don’t usually go in for that sort of thing, and trap them in a brand new world: NBA, NFL and NHL sims have always been very popular for this reason. And so are the arcade-y sims on Wii Sports. Games like Gran Turismo have also worked in this way: I’m not a car guy, but when I got my PS2 I played A-Spec to death. Top Spin 3 is a game for people who love tennis. I suppose the studio better hope there’s enough of them lurking on those shady forums to become a market of their own.
It might not be everyone’s bowl of latte, but the game mechanics are pretty cool. Again, with the comparison to Wii Tennis, which is a swing-at-it-then-scream-in-delight kind of interface, Top Spin 3 complicates things – but that’s not necessarily bad. Here, you hold the Wii Remote on its side, so it feels more than ever like a tennis racquet handle, and you’ll also need to hook up the Nunchuck. 2K have gone for a more strategic approach, where preparing your swing ahead of time and using the Nunchuck to aim will have to be synched for the best shots. Once your shot is prepared (i.e. you’ve pulled back, ready to swing, and rolled the analogue stick in the direction to want to hit) the Remote will buzz, letting you know you’re all set up. Your avatar will swing by him or herself from here, but if you swing too, and match yours with your avatar’s, the shot will be more powerful. There are three slipstream colours that might attach themselves to the ball – white, which is your everyday return shot; yellow, which is slightly more powerful; and orange, which is hot, fast and almost impossible to hit back.
Prior to aiming your shot, the analogue stick can also be used to position your player. They all walk sideways like drunk crabs, but keeping them mobile is often imperative in sending back your opponent’s serve. The interplay between moving your player and aiming can be a bit tricky, especially when you consider that overuse of the analogue stick can cause you to make silly errors – some of these are built in to the game and the tutorial warns you about them, but I haven’t been able to figure out what causes what, which is a bit frustrating.
There are three game modes: exhibition, Road to Glory, and party games. Exhibitions are single-player or multi-player one offs, and Road to Glory is the career option that exists in all such games. Party games are kind of a new one for sports sims. It’s good to see it here, because it will add a great deal to the life of the game. The career mode pushes all the right buttons, but there’s nothing outside of what you expect. Exhibition shines only in terms of its ability to customise the conditions of the match.
I haven’t seen such poor atmosphere since EA’s NHL ’95 (the last overhead title before they went 3D a year later). This will be due, in part, to the Wii’s limited processing power. Their intuitive control and gameplay interfaces often come at the expense of the graphics, but… come on. The crowd sits more ore less motionless, unless there’s a styled camera shot that takes them in – then they each have two positions: hands at side and hands in air. Repeat for effect. Then there are the ballboys. You can see them perched at the sides of the court, but it's like they’re ornamental. They don’t run, and they don’t collect balls, which is sort of fundamental for ballboys. Thankfully, some time and effort has gone into making sure the avatars look plenty like their real life counterparts. Federer is federiffic. The work has gone in, and in terms of the playable stars, it shows.
Shame about the sound. There’s not really much to say about it, other than it’s lacklustre. I had to go back to the game and mess about with it for a while with all my attention on the music and effects in order to be able to say even this about them. They’re insubstantial and add nothing to the proceedings. Sure, there’s only so much you can do with the smack of racquet on ball, the boo of a crowd and the tinny shout of an umpire, but it’s like these were tacked on at the end because the developers realised, “Hey, not only deaf people will play this game!”
Not only does he look the bit, but this game could have as well been called Roger Federer’s Top Spin 3. The guy’s stats out-stat everyone else by a statting mile. The other stars that populate the game’s playable avatars can’t really stack up, but there are plenty to choose from, each with two (!) outfits and a pocket full of dreams. And the venues, too, are almost characters in themselves. Static as they are, with all their still crowds and redundant staff, they’re prettily rendered and fairly realistic.
Top Spin 3 isn’t the kind of sports sim you pick up to escape into and have a little fun with a sport you might not normally get an opportunity to play. It’s the kind you pick up if you love tennis and have a poster of Sharapova on your bedroom ceiling. Fans of tennis, fans of tennis games and, sure, diehard sports game fans will find something in here to keep them up past bedtime. The rest of you might as well put Wii Sports back on and mess with your Miis.