Tennis is one of the rare sports that it's difficult to get wrong when trying to portray it in videogame form. Some of the most enjoyable sports titles of recent years include Smash Court Tennis, Virtua Tennis and of course the Xbox's Top Spin. When the game was released two years ago, it was one of the flagship titles for Microsoft's new console and was arguably one of the best reasons to buy an Xbox for Christmas in 2003 (that and some game that we can't recall the name of, to do with angels or something). Anyway, as Microsoft recently sold off part of its sports assets, we're now being blessed with a PlayStation 2 version of the aforementioned Top Spin. But, whilst the appearance of the game on Sony's console should be a cause for celebration, the end product is a little disappointing.
Firstly, let's set this straight: this is primarily a port, though 2K Sports have graciously added a few things to the game to try and justify a purchase. So, those with an Eyetoy camera can put their face into the Create-A-Player mode. This works surprisingly well and is implemented easier than in AFL Premiership 2005. Those who don't have a Eyetoy camera don't need to feel like they're missing out though, as the game (like any sports game worth it's salt nowadays) also features a fairly comprehensive Create-A-Player mode, allowing you to customise a whole range of features on your player, with everything from facial hair to headgear covered.
Top Spin also features online support, which makes it one of the only online PlayStation 2 tennis games. Unfortunately, the net play isn't fully scoped out, and only two players are supported in this mode. This is extremely disappointing, and it's a shame that four people cannot play online at once. There is a ranking system that works fairly well though.
Aside from these two inclusions, the game is basically a straightforward port of the Xbox version from 24 months ago. The player roster has been left untouched and includes tennis professionals such as Roger Federer, Carlos Moya and Lleyton Hewitt representing the males and Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams and (the now retired) Swiss Miss Martina Hingis appearing as the most notable tennis females.
All of the modes from the Xbox version have made the cut, with the obligatory Exhibition and Tournament optionss available from the get-go. However, the mode you'll spend the most time in is the Career Mode. This does precisely what it says on the tin, taking your player through ranked matches to improve your standing and get to number one. It's a fairly basic 'Main' mode, but will suffice. Nevertheless, we'd have liked a little more depth to this, or even some PlayStation 2 exclusives.
Oh, and there's two issues that need to be pointed out that weren't something that had to be considered when the game was on the Xbox. One: the save files exceed over 1500kb per save, which can take up a quarter of the capacity of the PlayStation 2 memory card. We have no idea why it takes up so much room, as there isn't that much data to remember. And two: The loading is also a bit of a problem as well; it's not uncommon to be waiting a fairly long time for an Exhibition match to begin, which is a little off-putting.
Gameplay-wise the game is fairly faithful to the excellent Xbox original. When it comes to sports titles, gameplay's obviously extremely important and Top Spin is as addictive as it was two years ago. The PlayStation 2 face buttons pull off the normal tennis shots such as lobs, slices and slams. The unique feature of the game is the 'risk shot'. Pressing 'R1' allows you to perform a risk shot and, as the name suggests, it's a shot that can vary in how successful it is. To actually be a success, you need to time the risk shot with split second timing, so it's unlikely that most people will actually utilise the risk shot unless they're highly skilled, though it can come in handy.
Graphically the game looks average. Recently, we've been lucky enough to see some beautiful-looking games on the PS2 that demonstrate that Sony's box still has the potential to churn out games that look almost as luscious as the prettiest Xbox software. Alas, Top Spin isn't such a title - the character models are average and the crowds look fairly poor as well, with the only redeeming feature being the animations, which look good.
Sound-wise the game is also fairly basic, but we weren't actually expecting anything to blow us away. There's the general sounds of tennis - the grunts, thwacks, slurping of Robinsons' barley water etc. - but there's a distinct lack of personality here, and there doesn't appear to be enough life in the audience. Heck, it is tennis though, so we don't really expect an overwhelming soundtrack. But it's been done better.
The game itself should last a fairly decent amount of time. The Career mode isn't too lengthy however, and becomes easier the more you play the game. The online play and multiplayer options are a major drawcard, and considering this is the only online tennis game on the PlayStation 2 (except Outlaw Tennis, which made us cry) we think this is the best reason to consider a purchase of Top Spin. We're a little disappointed that there weren't more exclusives added to the PlayStation 2 release, especially considering PlayStation 2 owners waited two years for this.
Top Spin isn't a bad tennis game, it's been released at a budget price point and the fact it even made it over to the PlayStation 2 is a positive. However, this feels as though it was just ported to be out in time before the sequel comes out for the Xbox 360, a suspicion that's further aroused by some distinctly shoddy loading times and average graphics. The biggest redeeming feature of the game is the gameplay, which is just as stellar now as it was two years ago. If you've got the game on Xbox this game isn't worth a purchase, but if you're a large fan of tennis games then it may be worth picking Top Spin up, but don't expect anything new.
XBOX: Top Spin