Top Spin 3 was a risky game, and one that went against the norms of current-generation gaming. In a time of easily accessibility and features designed to broaden audiences, Top Spin 3 held back its best for those who were willing to persevere past its steep learning curve. Not many did, but those who stuck with it loved it. Its gameplay stressed on shot selection over just brute force, making it deeper and more challenging than its arcade counterparts. With Top Spin 4, 2K Sports has attempted to bring that winning gameplay formula and present it in a way that is less daunting. While this has meant that some of the more punishing features are removed, it still holds a fair amount of challenge.
Speed is the key
As in previous games, gameplay is all about timing, precision and positioning, but at the same time, it’s a lot more lenient on you when you don’t get a shot right. This game does away with risk shots, a feature that, in earlier games, would let you completely change the balance in a rally. Its timely use would turn the tide in your favor, while misusing it would almost certainly result in an unforced error. Taking it away makes the game far more predictable, but the new gameplay still relies on power and timing to win you points. In place of the risk shots are the completely risk-free control shots, which will let you keep the ball in play in desperate situations, but at the expense of shot power.
The career mode is where it’s at. These modes in tennis games often just turn into match after match, separated by lots of menus and pointless mini-games; but not in Top Spin 4. The game uses a brilliant leveling system to improve your attributes. XP earned from matches and special events, allows you to build your player’s attributes across three areas – serve and volley, baseline offence and baseline defense. You can use these to mold your player to your liking. In addition, you can hire coaches, who will help you in certain areas of your game, and once you achieve the objectives they set for you, they will grant you skills, for example, more powerful or accurate serves, stronger forehand, or improved passing shots against opponents at the net.
As you earn XP, level up your character, and earn fans be competing in tournaments and special events, you also move up through various status levels; from nobody to superstar. Each status also has objectives tied to it, so there’s a lot of motivation to keep playing. Great games are the ones that will keep pushing you to play them even when you’re tired or when its way past bed time. Top Spin 4 is one of them. You’ll keep playing the career for just one more match or just one more level up. It’s easily the best career mode in any tennis game yet.
Don't be afraid to stretch a little
The game’s Normal difficulty setting is rather meek, so if you’ve played tennis games before, it would be a good idea to start with Hard. However, playing at Normal, the game has some severe difficulty spikes later in the career and semi-final and final matches in tournaments artificially ratchet up the difficulty to Hard. Selecting the Hard difficulty would also be a good idea if you’re playing a doubles match solo, because on Normal, the partner AI is abysmal, hitting easy volleys conveniently into the opponent’s path. The game doesn’t include Wimbledon, but does have the other three grand slams. Surprisingly, you can’t just play a single tournament; you’re resigned to the career mode or exhibition matches, which is a little disappointing.
Fans of past Top Spin games may feel a little cheated by the series’ new approach towards more accessible gameplay, but they shouldn’t be too disappointed, because Top Spin 4 still maintains its own identity, even if it is now closer to its competitors than before. It still produces an exciting game of tennis, with lively atmospheres where crowds will gasp during long rallies and burst into cheers after a winner. Its career mode flows naturally, feels rewarding, and is presented beautifully. So apprehensions aside, Top Spin is still at the top of the stack when it comes to tennis game. Now, it’s Sega’s serve.
Price: Rs 1,999 (Wii), Rs 2,499 (PS3, Xbox 360)
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