At this year's annual Xbox conference - X03, held on the sun-kissed shores of the French Riviera near Nice, one of the titles Microsoft seemed most keen to push upon the bleary and hungover eyes of attending Journos was Top Spin, an exclusive Tennis game that would be at the centred of the Xbox Live Christmas assault. Initially, I was somewhat dubious - its not a football game, is it, will anyone be really that excited? Well, it may not be based upon the world's most popular sport, but Top Spin is certainly worth getting excited about, especially if you're a fan.
Sega's Virtua Tennis is of course the main competitor - but time has hardly been kind to the old favourite and it's certainly time it was offered some worthy competition - well, that's finally arrived in the shape of Power and Magic's Top Spin a tennis game that mixes arcade action with tennis simulation so perfectly as to be the tennis game on any format.
Firstly, Top Spin has a very comprehensive series of shots to chose from, including a variety of back-hands, volleys, lobs, drop-shots, slices, et al - indeed, my knowledge of the game runs out before the availability of shots does. There's certainly plenty to get to grips with - and the serve is no different. The game also introduces a 'risk shot' which is enabled by pulling the right-trigger and allows the player to perform a potential 'killer shot', all be it with the added risk of this going wide. The potency of this, and normal shots, correlates directly with how "in the zone" you are, with your confidence and ability growing as you perform winning shots. A metre at the top of the screen measures this ability, and when full, you'll be pulling off shots at the top of your game.
The game offers various modes in single player, including the self-explanatory tournament and exhibition functions. Then there's the enormous career mode - which enables you to create a virtual likeness of yourself and travel the world earning sponsorship deals with top brands, entering tournaments, and training with top coaches in a specific field. It is through a combination of these activities that your alter-ego will grow more adept, earn more, and win more. You can even shop for clothing, rackets and other performance-enhancing accessories should you wish and overall it's very comprehensive indeed.
Of course the game is fun and addictive like Virtua Tennis, but the sponsorship element, and the detail not only of the graphics but of the game as a whole also makes Top Spin a far more realistic proposition too - right down the vast variety of tournaments, to the real players featured and the brands that pervade the title. Very authentic indeed.
The real-clincher for Top Spin over any other competitor is however the multiplayer side of things. Of course, there's the opportunity for doubles/singles matches using multiple controllers as usual but the Xbox Live side of things is a potential revolution. Not only can you play online exhibition games and enter tournaments (the results of which will effect a real and ever-changing online ranking), but through Microsoft's much-hyped XSN Sports you can also organise your own leagues and tournaments, the potential of which is huge, I'm sure you'll agree.
All in all then Top Spin is the real deal. Amazing and detailed graphics/animation, authentic tournaments/career options, a fabulous game model of real tennis and excellent multiplayer options to makes things really interesting. I urge you to consider this, especially if you're interested in getting hooked-up to Xbox Live.