Top Spin 3 is, obviously, the third in the 2K Sports tennis series. It is the second of the series to appear on the Xbox 360. Its most obvious competitor is the Virtua Tennis series, which had a release on Xbox 360 last year. To put this review in a frame of reference, I have not played a Mario-less tennis game since the NES.
The game’s controls take a while to get used to because they are counterintuitive. To hit the ball you hold down the button of the type of shot you want to make, move to where you think the ball is going, and let go on the first bounce. The longer you hold the button down the harder the shot will be, and the better your timing is the easier your shot is to control. Similarly, serving requires initiating your serve with a shot button, then pressing a button again at the right moment in your motion. Irrationally, your player’s movement and your shot direction are both controlled by the left stick. The different factors of moving to the ball, selecting your shot, timing your shot, and placing your shot do not exactly flow smoothly. It feels like rubbing your head and patting your stomach. It makes the game play more about guessing your opponents next move then reacting to it.
There is a tutorial mode to help you learn both basic and more advanced techniques. The problem is the game requires such precision and perfect timing in everything – even this mode is frustrating. Despite all this, once you master the controls you really feel like you can place the ball anywhere on the court.
The main game mode is Career Mode. You create a player and then take them through the ranks from an amateur to a legend. For each match you win you earn XP points and money. The money can be spent on equipment and clothing; but they do not provide any performance benefit. XP points can be spent on skill attributes such as Service, Forehand, Volley, etc. To progress from Amateur to Challenger and from Challenger to Junior you only have to win a few matches. The Junior and the Pro portion is the meat of the career mode.
In Junior and Pro, you play through a year of real tournaments. Your goal is to finish at the top of the rankings at the end of the year. Each month there is an easy tournament or a hard tournament you can enter. There is a bit of a risk/reward to this. Hard tournaments give you more ranking points but are obviously harder. Winning an easy tournament is still better than being eliminated in an early round of a hard one.
In the events you play against both real and fictional pros. A shortcoming of this mode is that you cannot play as a real pro. The selection of pros is a bit disconcerting as well. Rafa Nadal, current men’s number one, is only available on the PlayStation 3 version. The women’s field is really paltry; it does not even include a Williams sister. Finally, the Legends roster is so small it is laughable.
The pros that are present play very much like their real counterparts. Roger Federer will kill you in all aspects the game unless you attack his weak backhand. Andy Roddick is extremely talented but will often choke at critical moments.
Visually the game is very impressive. The courts look very realistic and wear down over the course of the match. The pros are realistic facsimiles of their real counterparts, though they still have weird dead eyes. There is also some nice cloth movement.
Sonically the game feels slightly empty. There is menu music and ambient effects, but no commentary at all. It feels odd to be at a major tournament without hearing commentary from John McEnroe or another familiar voice.
Other modes include tournament mode and online play. In tournament mode you can play as a pro throughout one of the tournaments. In online mode you can take your created player against others’ creations. Sadly, I found it hard to find a many matches online.
Despite the game’s minor flaws it has a polished presentation and great depth. True racquet heads could really get caught up in this game. The career mode is deep, the tournament mode allows you to play as a real tennis player, and the online mode has potential. More casual fans will probably want to avoid it because of its steep learning curve.
Top Spin 3 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS,PS3, and Wii.