While Sega’s Virtua Tennis series brought lawn tennis back to the gaming masses with its somewhat arcadey representation of the sport, the Top Spin titles have consistently offered much more meat to tuck in to.
The only problem is that unlike other sports such as American Football - and the real kind of football us Europeans are so taken with - there’s much less call for a realistic tennis title. Though the sport has always been a part of gaming culture ever since Pong, it’s always been as part of a multiplayer orientated title that anyone can immediately pick up and play. Something the Virtua Tennis series has got off to absolute perfection.
So your first game with Top Spin 3 feels even more alien that you could have ever expected. No matter how astonishingly talented you are at previous tennis games, you’ll need to settle down and spend a good few hours with Top Spin 3 before you’ll even come close to winning a match against the easiest of opponents.
Until you take in the Top Spin School in its entirety your serves will fly off into the stands, and even the simplest of returns will struggle to find home between the court’s lines. You’ll require this initial half hour of practice and learning of the game mechanics before you should even contemplate heading out on the court for real. Not exactly the kind of pick up and play attitude we’re used to.
Each face button represents a different kind of shot, from slices, lobs, drop shots, and a nice touch of tricky top spin. There’s no power bar to indicate just how strong your shot is going to be, so it’s all about how early you decide to hold the face button of choice. Plus, directing your shot is initiated by a quick prod in the required direction a split second before your player hits the ball. Any earlier and the shot will go well wide.
On top of that, you’re still able to use the trigger buttons to initiate "risk shots". Prodding these shoulder buttons give your shots either more accuracy, or tonnes more power. But only if your timing is absolutely spot on. Get it either slightly off and your shot will be able as likely to win a point as an Englishman to win Wimbledon. It is risk and reward gameplay at its best and only the most talented gamers will be able to regularly pull off these tricky moves.
Once you’ve got the nuances of play down, it’s finally time to make your name in the tennis world. You’re able to create your own character to take to the top of the rankings, though the variations are somewhat limited. There’s sadly no options to give your character comically huge hair. Top Spin 3 remains serious in its entirety.
As you progress up the ranks and finally head out on a real tennis season, your real life (there are over 40 licensed players in game) opponents start to get alarmingly difficult to beat. Their shots seem to be constantly placed and powered perfectly, and each point is one to battled with until the very end.
As realistically as your opponents will glide across the court, and despite how astonishingly beautiful they appear, the intelligence of them is perhaps a little too high. The chances of them fluffing their lines and smacking a shot out of bounds are much too low for our liking, and make for an experience that feels more like playing a form of AI rather than a real life counterpart.
Speaking of which, the online leaderboards and tournaments make multiplayer a real treat. Find some online friends who are equally as adept at the game as yourself and you’ll be in for months of tennis pleasure. Our only worry is will the population willing to play rapidly decrease now Wimbledon is over?
It’s firmly realistic nature may be tricky to get to grips with, and no doubt numerous gamers will give up before they’ve won a match, but once you’re there then Top Spin 3 is a real sporting treat.
It’s not quite as much "fun" as the Virtua Tennis titles, but if its realism you’re after, then Top Spin 3 is for you.