You can shoot stuff; you can drive stuff; you can fight stuff. All acceptable video game fantasies. But volleying a yellow ball of felt back and forth? Profess your love for tennis video games and prepare to endure snickers. However, games like Top Spin 2 inspire a devout loyalty that you simply shouldn't feel ashamed to admit - not with a game this accessible, enjoyable and affordable.
The secret of Top Spin 2's appeal is its seductive simplicity. Elegant controls make smashing volleys and burying serves in the backcourt easy and intuitive. Dive into the friendly career mode and you'll learn one skill at a time with a series of coaches, each specializing in attributes like power, finesse and accuracy. You can have fun just knowing the basic shots, but when you start to add spins, risky lobs, and precision aiming, suddenly the game gains great depth - and you don't have to know how to play tennis to tap it. Whereas other sports games beg a deep understanding of their real-world counterparts, all you really need to know to enjoy Top Spin 2 is "get the ball over the net." Learning how to do that as you go turns out to be a lot of fun, especially if you can do it with friends.
The original Top Spin lacked a four-player mode on Xbox Live, and the sequel was supposed to address this, but online doubles matches were yanked at the last minute - a major disappointment. Party games like splattering the court with paint and a brick-busting variant on Breakout will give you and three friends plenty to brag about, but only if you're all on the same couch. You bring the beer.
There's not much dialogue at all - a good thing, because it would be distracting otherwise - but the coaches' voices are all goofy caricatures that we could do without. And while the character creator is deep, we don't want to play with options like skin stains. Eew.
None of that will stop you from getting hooked. Unusually addicting and accessible for a serious sports game, Top Spin 2 offers a lot of gameplay for a very reasonable $40. Go ahead. We won't tell.