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Top Spin 3 - hands-on

Where did Sega get the bright idea of migrating its stable of characters, those better known for dancing, flying and speed, to a more confined 78 by 36 foot court? Wii Sports, no doubt. Apparently, Nintendo’s tech demo got everybody and their mother thinking they too can make a tennis game. Well, 2K Sports's Top Spin is returning this summer with its third iteration to tell the copycats: No. No you can’t.

Or at least they’re setting out to prove you can’t do a game of tennis quite so fine as the one Top Spin 3 is set to serve. They’ve taken the simple act of whacking balls back and forth and added more layers then a Taco Bell prototype chalupa. To start, each face button is prescribed a specific function instead of an all purpose “Thwack!” Slices, lobs, flat and drop shots occupy every face button, and all use an intuitive hold-and-release scheme that allows you to time swings to infinite appropriateness.

Top Spin 3 is easy to jump into, but it doesn’t sugarcoat the timeless game to the point of casual nausea. Position is the most vital aspect of sustaining a successful volley and/or driving an opponent to the net, and that responsibility falls squarely on the player. But once you’re in a sweet spot, time your back swing then use the right analog stick to aim your return over the net.

These phenoms do not magnetically snap to return shots, and that’s most evident in the character animations, which are nothing short of astounding. Athletes will dive out of bounds to return shots or sprint up to the net to return lobs from whence they came. Don’t expect era-spanning superstars like Monica Seles and Boris Becker to go all Super Saiyan, but by using the shoulder buttons you can put more power into a smash, and even carry your momentum into your returns. And all of their real-time steps and maneuvers have been painstakingly animated using thousands of motion-captured animation and exhibit a next-gen fluidity that most sports games don't even bother to attempt.

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