Opinion: Part Five of my favourite tennis videogames: Top Spin 4

It was a slightly rushed and vague entry yesterday so my apologies.

The final chapter here sees a game that by and large still represents the pinnacle of tennis in videogame format and, while not perfect, has enough ingredients to satisfy most fans even today.

The first Top Spin was arguably superior to its first two sequels which tried to do too much and lost some focus along the way. That it was so good meant that I didn’t long for another title for many years.

I did attempt Virtua Tennis 3 on the PSP for my London commutes but this was largely a fiddly and unsatisfactory experience.

All changed when, somewhat quietly, the fourth Top Spin game was announced for the 360 amongst others.

The visuals weren’t groundbreaking, but good, the soundtrack lacked the romance of the original but was catchy at least. The menu’s were garish and some elements of the career mode were bloated and inaccessible at times.

But, these gripes aside, this is even now, The Real Deal. You get the generous player roster of current and classic gen stars (not weighted to the US like the original), a whole host of accurate or otherwise attractive venues to play in and a career mode and online iteration that is engaging with a stellar character creation model. All wrapped in a snazzy polished presentation that certainly creates an atmosphere.

But the real strength here is in the control system which is perfect for obsessives like me who invest their time in a game: the opposite in many ways to the arcade friendliness of Virtua Tennis.

The complexity of the weighted button system and timing needed to pull off not just a winner but even a safe shot in some circumstances led to a level of satisfaction and reward when you pulled off a rolling backhand winner, ace or deft slice.

Players would get visibly fatigued or move slower during a long rally, and would voice a more strained shriek at a particularly tough get.

All this would lead to many unforced errors and genuine winners and tactics in play.

You no longer missed because of impossible controls or shoddy player movement and rallies wouldn’t go on for minutes on end after you and a friend had figured out the bulletproof shot that wins every time.

In short, behind the too-colourful visuals and brightness of the whole thing, you have a very realistic tennis simulation. And yes, I’m aware that other games I haven’t played may have delivered all of the above before, this is just in my experience.

I wonder if the upcoming Tennis World Tour will offer a similar experience?


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