When Top Spin made its way onto Xbox in late 2003 it was nothing short of revolutionary. With its fast paced gameplay, expansive single player career mode and brilliant online play over Xbox Live, Top Spin wowed fans and critics alike. Nearly two years later it makes its way onto PS2 but with mixed feelings.
Firstly you have to ask has anything good come from those two years of delay, or is this the exact game we saw on Xbox all that time ago? With Top Spin 2 lurking around the corner for the new Xbox 360, PS2 fans may justifiably feel Xbox followers have all the fun. Such an opinion would be highly vindicated because the PS2 version certainly doesn't feel any better than the Xbox version did, but in many respects it does come pretty close.
All the Top Spin fundamentals are here, not only does the game handle like the 'successor to Virtua Tennis' the Xbox version was often described as, but it also offers a healthy number of game modes such as exhibition and custom tournament which are great for single or multiplayer gaming up to four players. The main career mode allows you to create a character from scratch with attributes such as height, weight, body type and facial structure. You can even scan in you own face from an Eye Toy if you own one and feel that way inclined. From there your challenge is to become the next tennis legend and compete for that no.1 world ranking. You will travel the world gaining money, sponsors and making a name for yourself. As you progress through the career mode your character will gain certain traits depending on how you like to play. For example if you play with power your character with time will master the power shots. If you play with precision your character will develop better accuracy.
Top Spin offers you a number of different groundstrokes, such as forehands, backhands, drops and lobs. Serves are easily executed using a double tap meter. There is a careful balance of power to consider, too powerful and you're shot spirals out of control with little accuracy, whereas if you hit it with very low power your opponent will rarely be caught out. There is something called a risk metre which works directly in proport to how well you are doing in a match, the idea is the better you are doing the more effective it will be to pull off a risk move and catch out your opponent, but at the danger of messing up a straight forward swing. This adds an extra sense of depth and risk to the gameplay mix.
As far as graphics are concerned the awesome in-game special effects seen in the Xbox version either look unimpressive or don't make any appearance in the PS2 version which is highly disappointing to say the least. Some of the textures also look poorly detailed and lacking in quality which is equally inadequate. However, overall there is plenty of praise to give the graphics. The massive arenas look great, most of the characters look like their real life counterparts and move very naturally indeed. The shadows also look very good. The game also runs at a steady frame rate, at the compromise of loading times which can be as long as 30-40 seconds per round.
The sound, despite the repetitive grunting noises the players often make when smashing the ball, is generally very good. The ambient background sounds differ from venue to venue and seem highly appropriate for each stage. The sounds the ball makes bouncing over the court and getting hit by the racket seems authentic but there is a dearth of in-game music, bar the small variety of electronic guitar 'muzak' which loops during the menus.
Online gameplay was something that made Top Spin on the Xbox stand out from the rest of the crowd, so rather unsurprisingly they included online play for this PS2 version. While the PS2s online service doesn't feel as complete as the online service provided on Xbox Live it still does a fairly solid job. However the biggest hurdle you may experience is actually getting an opponent to play, as its not exactly bursting with players at present.
Two years after the Xbox release and many small compromises leave Top Spin on PS2 feeling not quite as revolutionary as the Xbox version was. However it is a game that remains the most definitive and worthwhile Tennis experience so far. Given a choice of consoles, just be sure to go for the Xbox version, even if it is older.
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