Top Spin 4 Review (Wii)
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Top Spin 4 for Wii is actually quite fun, for the first 10 minutes or so.
The shots -- flat, top spin, slice, lob and drop shots -- work like they should. Hitting a winner down the line is always satisfying. Player styles are distinctive enough. And for any tennis fan from the '90s, you can finally set up a match between Sampras and Agassi.
But when the 10-minute mark arrives, you will realize that something is off. This is not real tennis. This is a caricature of tennis.
The exaggeration is especially evident in the difference between control and power shots. In theory, control shots are slower and allow for a more accurate placement while power shots are faster but have a greater chance of going awry. In practice, however, everything is amped up to eleven without a hint of balance. Control shots are way too slow, rendering them pretty much useless, especially against quality opponents. Power shots are bullets, but aim anywhere close to the line and they will go out. If you’re looking for some patient, thoughtful rallies, forget about it. It’s almost a certainty that after two or three exchanges one of the players will be out of position, gifting the other an easy winner.
This is not helped by the simplistic AI. Even with the difficulty level set to very hard, baseline players stay rooted to the baseline 99 percent of the time, even when the situation screams for them to attack the net. Net players, on the other hand, always charge forward like a bull, even after they have feebly sliced back your cross-court smash. This results in a feeling of déjà vu about three games into a set. Go any longer and the shallowness of the match engine turns the whole thing into Groundhog Day.
So if you are brave enough to create a player and tackle the career mode, be forewarned: The monotony of the games will test your patience.
The good: There is a decent variety of signature moves. Sampras often leaps when returning serves on his backhand, Michael Chang runs around like a jackrabbit, and Andy Roddick’s serving motion is unmistakable.
The bad: Cut scenes are comical. Upon losing the very first point of a match, I witnessed the usually stoic Sampras smash his racket to the ground. After winning the next, however, he gave his (I suppose new) racquet a little behind the back twirl, happy as a clam. Such is the roller coaster of emotions that is an exhibition tennis match.
The ugly: The graphics are bad. Player models are jagged and blocky. The courts are roughly drawn with little details. And worse, every so often the game stutters annoyingly for a second or two. For a game like tennis that’s so reliant on timing, this is inexcusable.
Top Spin 4 has a control scheme that seeks to emulate real-life tennis motions. Swing the Wii remote from low to high for a top spin shot, high to low for a slice and straightforward for a flat shot. To serve, toss the ball into the air and swing down. Lobs and drop shots are mapped to the A and B buttons while player movement is controlled by the Nunchuk. Placing your shots is also done with the analog stick.
When it all works, this is not a bad idea. And there are moments, rare as they may be, when you find yourself swinging for a top spin winner, full throttle, immersed in the game.
Sadly, it all rarely comes together because the game is plagued with motion control issues. The biggest of them all is the lack of MotionPlus support, so every swing becomes a crapshoot as to whether it registers correctly. Unless you seriously exaggerate your motions, your top spin power swing may very well translate into a controlled slice in the game. Essentially, these issues happen frequently enough that you might want to just go find a real tennis racquet and smash up your Wii.
The running does not fare much better, either. It’s often unresponsive, and once in a while just goes flat out crazy. There were a few instances where I attempted to return serve, only for the game to think I had swung early, which sent my player darting in the opposite direction of the ball.
Top Spin 4 comes with a career mode that allows you to create a player and lead him or her to the top. However, there is no option to use an existing professional player and enter into major tournaments right away. This means you will have to get through some tedious schlepping in the lower ranks.
To start, you customize the player by selecting his physical appearances, grunt noises, gear, attributes, coach (which improves certain attributes) and playing style. As you might expect, you only get a few attribute points, the worst coaches, and limited gear selections to begin with, as more become available as your player progresses through his career.
While it’s nice to dream about your virtual doppelganger returning Nadal’s serve on Center Court at Arthur Ashe (Wimbledon is not licensed), getting there is a chore. The career mode is divided into “acts” that advance as your player rises through different circuit levels (local, regional, etc.) and becomes more successful. To advance, your player must succeed in various mini-games and win tournaments. Now it’s one thing if they were fun, but that’s not the case here. The mini-games, and there are more than a fair share of them to complete before moving on, are painfully repetitive -- almost all of them are some variation on the "hit/serve the ball to certain areas of the court" idea -- while the quality of the no-name opponents are just too easy. There is a good chance that you may very well have given up on career mode before reaching the pros.
Like the HD versions, Top Spin 4 for Wii boasts a large stable of current and classic players. Even with the aforementioned problems with player models and AI playing styles, it’s still some fun to see Rafael Nadal playing opposite Boris Becker.
The issue lies with the player ratings. Each player is rated on forehand, backhand, serve, volley and speed. The speed attribute is a funny one, because according to the game, it’s also indicative of the player’s stamina. Whichever genius that thought lumping the two together was a good idea needs a proper head examination. What this means is that Agassi, a fitness fiend who is not the most fleet footed, gets only a two out of six.
The anomalies don’t end there. Michael Chang’s backhand is apparently as good as Roger Federer’s -- I rest my case. It’s things like these that prevent any hardcore tennis fan from taking this game seriously.
Top Spin 4 for Wii plays a shallow brand of tennis. Sure, for a short while it may trick you into thinking that you’re playing tennis, or perhaps even having some fun, but the match engine lacks any semblance of rhythm and nuance that makes tennis the game that it is. Couple that with the finicky motion detection and some sad looking visuals, and it all amounts to a tennis game worth avoiding.
Learning Curve: Steep, and not in a good way. You have to learn how exaggerated your motions need to be.
Control Scheme: Nice when it all works, frustrating when the controls inevitably fail.
Visuals: Last-gen graphics and occasionally choppy animations.
Audio: Scripted oohs and ahhs and the occasional overhead jet does not create much atmosphere.
Score: 3.0 (Subpar)