Top Spin Xbox
by Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by Power and Magic Development
Released - Out Now
Price : £39.99
We've reviewed a fair amount of Tennis games here on Deaf Gamers. No matter what the title has been though we can't help feel that they were all inferior to Virtua Tennis on the Dreamcast. It's quite depressing really that someone hasn't managed to surpass a fairly aged game on a now defunct console. Hang on a minute though I should really reword that and say that it was depressing because at long last we have a Tennis game that manages to at least equal Virtua Tennis and actually surpass it in many areas.
Although Top Spin is excellent as a multiplayer game it's the single player game that you're going to want to play first to build up your created player to take online. The single player options include exhibition, career and custom tournaments (although this could be played as a multiplayer mode too). The career mode is where all the fun is to be had though. You create a player (male or female) and begin at the wrong end of the top 100 players. Initially you can only play in minor pro tournaments which, if you win will earn you 15,000 coin (the currency in Top Spin). The career mode is truly a global affair but only one continent is shown onscreen at a time and you'll have to use the airport to travel from one continent to another.
To upgrade your skills or masteries as they are called (which are broken down into Forehand, Backhand, Serve and Volley) you'll need coin and one of your fourteen mastery stars. You have to find a relevant coach and pay coin as well as use a star to upgrade you chosen ability (assuming you pass the small exercise). The coach training's feel like the mini-games in Virtua Tennis and are quite fun. As you increase in abilities and win tournaments, your ranking will improve and you'll gain access to the higher tournaments. You can also get a sponsor for yourself if you can complete the tasks they set for you. Sponsors provide you with extra kit and money which is always useful. The first tournaments you have access to are quite easy but when you reach the major pro and grand slam tournaments you'll be in for a stiff challenge. You can check on your progress at anytime by pressing the start button and accessing your Nexus, which allows you to change your kit and monitor your progress.
Top Spin is the first XSN Sports game that we've looked at here on Deaf Gamers. In case you didn't know XSN Sports games allow you to create your own tournaments or take part in tournaments that others have created. These tournaments can either be a knock-out cup competition or a league in which you play other gamers in turn. It certainly promises to be a superb addition to the Xbox Live experience. Currently the service isn't enabled for Top Spin (only NFL Fever 2004 is enabled at the moment) although it can't be long before it is. The usual Xbox Live options are available at the moment, including Quick Match and Optimatch and there will even be official tournaments for you to take part in. There is even an official worldwide ranking system. It's fair to say that Xbox Live has helped make Top Spin an excellent multiplayer title. System link games are also supported for 2-4 players.
Whilst the controls, for the most part, are routine enough to players of tennis games (A = normal shot, B = topspin shot, X = slice shot, Y = lob shot) Power and Magic have added their own twist. You can perform what is known as a risk shot. A risk shot is a powerful shot that is difficult, but not impossible, to return. If you use the right trigger to perform a risk shot a meter will appear with a moving horizontal line. You have to release the trigger as near to the centre as possible to correctly perform the shot. It takes a lot of practice to perform it correctly but once mastered you'll have a powerful weapon against virtually any player out there. In a similar manner you can also perform a drop shot, by pulling the left trigger, to drop the ball just over the net. The drop shot isn't quite as difficult to perform as the risk shot but can be just as effective if your opponent isn't hanging around the net. Serves can be performed with either button although the type of serve will differ depending on the button used. The left trigger for instance will perform an underarm serve whilst the A button will perform a normal serve. On the whole the controls feel very smooth and allow you to immediately enjoy the game.
There really isn't that much to say about the graphics in Top Spin. Take a look at the screenshots, they look fantastic and these are easily the best graphics seen in any tennis game. Of course you would expect it to look better than the two Virtua Tennis games because of the greater capabilities of the Xbox but it's nice to see that it looks as good as it does. The players look and animate very well too. There are no wooden-like tennis players in Top Spin. If I had to pick a fault though, it's a shame that the ball boys/girls don't move. The crowds do look good though and you'll see them stand to applaud on occasion. Top Spin has many, many different courts; in fact there are so many courts set in different locales from around the world that it's truly impressive. The many courts on offer are split into five categories, Grand Slam, Major Pro, Pro, Minor Pro and Playground but regardless of what you play on, it looks impressive. With all that's in the game it's easy to forget that 16 top tennis pro's have been included and look quite good too. Pete Sampras and Anna Kournikova are just two of the pro's on offer. There are only two camera angles in the game: a close up one and the usual overhead view. Both are perfectly playable although, for some reason, if you choose the overhead view it doesn't save this preference and every time you play the game you'll have to change the camera angle as it defaults to the close up view.
Top Spin is fine for deaf gamers. Surprisingly enough there is no match commentary. The umpire calls out the score but this is shown onscreen anyway. Before the start of a tournament you receive a few words from an announcer and these comments are not subtitled but it's no loss and certainly adds nothing to the gameplay. All information, the bulk of which can be found in your Nexus is shown in text which is especially welcome in the single player career mode. You'll also be able to see what the crowd thinks of you too as this is represented by an ITZ meter. The fuller the bar the more the crowd are impressed with your play.
Top Spin is certainly an excellent tennis title, in my opinion the best to date, but there are minor quibbles. The load times can be a little irritating and rather too frequent when moving from screen to screen. Once you begin a tournament you'll have to play until you either win or are knocked out as there is no way to save your progress mid-tournament. It can also be a pain playing against an AI or human opponent that has mastered the risk shots as they are hard to defend. If you like to play mixed matches then you can't, which is rather unfortunate. Despite these niggles though you can't help but be impressed with Top Spin. For a debut Xbox Live tennis title, and indeed as a single player game, it certainly hits the mark and will keep you busy for months as you climb the ranks of both single player game and the Xbox Live circuit. At last it's time for the Virtua Tennis series to stand aside.
Game Rating: 9.0/10
The Virtua Tennis series has been surpassed at long last. Whilst not perfect it's the best tennis game to date and is going to be a firm favourite on Xbox Live.
No problems for deaf gamers.