Xbox 360 Review: Top Spin 2

Top Spin 2 is not Virtua Tennis. For those weaned on Sega's tennis franchise, Top Spin is a shock. You hit the ball out of bounds with regularity, there are multiple types of shots, position is crucial, and hit detection is unforgiving. It's necessary to take the Indie Built-developed Top Spin seriously, and if you can make the adjustment from the only other tennis series out there, you'll find the best representation of the sport on any platform.

Matches take time in Top Spin 2. When you're not winning any match in under a half hour, you know the simulation approach is the focus. The career mode doesn't allow for adjustments. If the tournament says each set requires four wins, so be it. There's no way around it. The developers knew this and implemented a match sim feature, but the AI almost always comes out on top. Thankfully, you can save after each round in a tournament.

It's certainly not the case that spending more time here is a flaw. The gameplay is diverse and strategic, offering the widest variety of shots in the history of tennis games. The triggers act as modifiers while the face buttons act as basic hits. The additional spin, height, or distance available means there's a winning return with every press of a button if played properly.

This is critical, and the in-depth training continues months into the career mode. In addition to a wide variety of mini-games (some ripped directly out of Virtua Tennis), each type of shot has its own training piece. Top Spin 2 ensures the player has all the knowledge they need. It's crucial too since when they advance into the top rankings, they'll require everything they've learned to win a single set.

There are little details that make Top Spin 2 a joy as well. While it's not graphically advanced, seeing stray dogs run onto the sides of the court in a run down park, joggers getting in shape, or cars driving by creates the appropriate atmosphere in the early stages. As you gain popularity, the fully rendered crowds applaud appropriately and judges watch the ball intently. It's a shame there aren't more camera options to see all of this better, as the two available views are inadequate for a full game.

Off the court, Top Spin 2 falls into some problems. A store offers rackets (amongst other customization options) of various sponsors, though they have no effect on gameplay. Online play doesn't allow for the party games (like wall defense which has one player attacking, attempting to knock down the wall behind their opponent), only non-customizable ranked matches or only slightly customizable unranked multi-player. Also note you can only use your created character in ranked matches, so you'll need to spend a lot of time to get your stats up before challenging over Xbox Live. This is far from being feature rich, and it's obviously focused on gaining its longevity through single player.

The controls are also suspect. For determining how much of an angle your next shot will take, you need to hold the analog stick in whichever direction you want to hit. The longer you hold, the tighter the angle, but could also send a shot out of bounds. With this system, it's hard to move towards the ball and prepare for a return because by moving, you're also determining where the ball will end up. The only way to ensure it stays in bounds is to hit a safe shot, which is nearly impossible to win with. Anything else is a calculated chance.

That's the only key flaw in Top Spin 2's otherwise perfect tennis engine. It's accessible, hard, and engrossing. It's easily one of the best tennis games ever made, and while it doesn't have the tight intensity of Virtua Tennis, it does a better job letting the player actually play tennis and screw up regularly. It may seem frustrating, but that's tennis. Top Spin 2 handles that aspect perfectly.

(**** out of *****)

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