Review: Top Spin 3

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With many years of playing video game tennis behind me, and a few years of playing real-life tennis too, I was excited to see a Wii Tennis game come along that not only utilized the console-specific control scheme, but also allowed for user controlled player movement. Wii Sports Tennis was/is lots of fun, but those looking for a more serious approach to the game had to wait until now. Is it time for a solid, pro tennis game or will Top Spin fall into the ocean of mediocrity that is that majority of the Wii’s lineup?

The first thing I noticed about TS3 was it’s music. What’s up with the pop/world beat/who knows what music that loops over and over in the menu? It just feels so out of place in a tennis game. Being open-minded, I won’t necessarily count the music against the game, though it is strange.

The next thing I noticed is that the way you are instructed to hold the Wii-mote is quite different. Rather than holding it with the buttons facing the ceiling, as in most games, you must hold the Wii-mote along it’s edge, so that the buttons are facing inward. This is one concept that, in theory, works wonderfully. The unfortunate part is the limitation to what you can do with your virtual racket. This review will not become a comparison to Wii Sports Tennis, but I will point out areas that are done better or worse than that game, for sake of having a point of reference.

In Wii Sports Tennis, all that you were responsible for was swinging the Wii-mote at the right time, using appropriate velocity, and watching the angle of the controller. All those aspects factored into where the ball would travel and how fast it would do so, in addition to if the shot was a smash, volley, or lob. In Top Spin 3, the only thing you are responsible for is swinging the Wii-mote at the proper time. The angle of the Wii-mote when the ball makes contact with your player’s racket only seems to factor into the maximum speed of a shot, serves included. Basically, you use the C-Stick, the same button that moves your player around, to dictate where your shot will go. This would be a cool idea, if the Wii did not have motion-sensing controls. It pretty much defeats the need for motion-sensing. Also, if you wish to make a lob, you simply hold down the Z button before you swing. Again, it doesn’t matter if you swing the Wii-mote in an upward motion, as in Wii Sports. It’s all about using the Nunchuk controller to aim your shot and select a lob, if you wish. I love being able to move my player around with the C-Stick, but not having more Wii-like control over my shots is pretty annoying. If only we had the racket controls of Wii Sports and the player movement controls of this game!

The game itself is decent, once you let go of the fact that yet another developer did not take advantage of the Wii’s soon to no longer be exclusive motion sensing capabilities. You’ll get a fair work-out serving, returning shots, and such. However, I’ve noticed the AI is somewhat deficient in at least one key area. One of the big no-nos in real-life tennis is to remain on one side of the court after a return; the player is supposed to try to return to the center of the baseline as often as possible, for maximum court coverage. In Top Spin 3, AI opponents will often take only a step or two towards that center. If you add in being able to precisely aim your shot with the C-stick, you can imagine how simple it is to aim cross-court, out of the A’s reach. It doesn’t seem to matter what the difficulty level is set to either, the AI keeps making ‘rookie’ mistakes.

Graphically, it’s obvious that the developers didn’t try to squeeze much out of the Wii. Everyone knows the Wii can’t compete with the XBox 360/PS3 in terms of graphics, but TS3’s graphics are weak, even for this console. This game looks like a PS2 or DC game, rather than a Wii/GC game. It’s a shame that this game strikes out with weak music, sub-par graphics, and poor use of Wii-mote capabilities.

There are 2 modes of play (Exhibition and Road to Glory), 3 ‘party’ games, and a tutorial. The modes are competent enough, but it just feels like this version was given very little attention and even less polish than the others. The menus feature extremely pixelated FMV in the background, the disco music is bizarre, and the modes seem limited. Oh yea, the ball boys never run for the ball, even if it’s hit off the net and lands right next to them – that’s just a personal pet peeve with all tennis games. My favorite tennis game, in recent years, was Virtua Tennis on the Dreamcast. No game (using real players), even Virtua Tennis 2, has been quite as good since. The first Top Spin on Xbox was fair, but it lacked all the great features, controls, and overall presentation that Virtua Tennis had. Sadly, the trend continues here. Beyond that, it hurts even more because not only is the game of tennis not well-represented here, it doesn’t even make you feel like you are playing tennis, as Wii Sports Tennis does. It’s sad to see yet another developer giving the Wii version the least, failing to take advantage of all the cool motion sensing capabilities, instead giving you what basically boils down to a graphically limited version of basically the same game (compared to X360 and PS3). It’s easy to see this developer either didn’t have time/skill to better integrate the controls for the Wii and/or they saw what most developers see, which is a huge base of casual gamers who will buy anything that even slightly uses the Wii-mote.

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