Top Spin 3 Preview (Xbox 360)

Late last week I sat down and got my hands on Top Spin 3 (360) for the first time.

I started off by playing Andy Roddick while using Roger Federer at Roland Garros. If I was a man I’d at least play Roddick at the U.S. Open, but I’m rusty so back off.

My first impression was "Wow nice graphics," but I’m not here to stare in awe at the player models, I came here to play, “the most realistic tennis video game to-date" (bold words Mr. Press Release).

So a couple A button taps later (360 version was on display) and here comes Roddick’s first serve … and there the ball goes, right by my flailing Federer. Alright chalk that one up to rust - try that again Andy “I have night terrors due to Roger” Roddick.

Here comes another powerful serve and this time I make contact. Roddick follows my shot up with his signature power two-handed forehand. I attempt to return this shot, sliding through the clay as I take a swipe at the ball. A lot of good that achieved; all I did was leave skid mark in the clay from where my shoe slid.

But I made contact this time, baby steps.

After a few more lost points it’s my turn to serve. I try out the new right stick serve mechanic, which is done by throwing the ball in the air with a flick of the right stick, and then nailing the ball with a downward flick of the right stick. So I flick the right stick up, and then I mistime the downward flick.

The end result: the ball bounces off virtual Roger’s head. And I am now officially awful at this game.

Somehow I’ve turned the smoothest player in tennis into a bumbling amateur. What is going on!? Culture shock is what’s going on. Sure Top Spin is still a tennis game, but for better or worse, this isn’t the same game that Top Spin fans grew to love back on the Xbox.

Two sets later a dirtied, huffing, puffing, profusely sweating Roger Federer shakes the umpire’s hand and walks off the court a beaten man, and I couldn’t be happier. Even though I consider myself a Top Spin “vet,” it felt good to be beat up on just the “normal” difficulty level.

After a few more matches I started to finally get the hang of the game again, stretching out my repertoire to incorporate some fancier shots and a more aggressive style.

After I started to plan shots ahead of time and didn’t just react in a twitch-like style I became more successful; and at least early on the game feels like it’s about strategy as much as it is about mastering the controls.

At first though, I wasn’t thinking ahead because I simply couldn’t. In this iteration the biggest fundamental change is that more than ever it's about timing your swing. You can also now hold down a button while chasing a ball, while in the past you didn’t start holding a button until you were about to swing. It’s a huge change when you think about it.

But holding the button is just the first step in what I consider a three step process, assuming everything goes right. Step two is getting to the ball and getting your feet planted. This is crucial because if you try to hold a button well in advance (resulting in a more powerful shot upon release) and then try to hit the ball without a solid base, you have a good chance of hitting the ball into the net or out of play. The third step is timing the release of the button as the ball gets to you. If you release the button too late you’re going to whiff like I did early on; but release it at just the right time and you’ll hit a sweet shot where you were aiming.

From there it tends to be about charging the net via a trigger button or pressing the LB to center yourself to the ball, readying for the possible return shot. If you get caught out of position, the first step in my three step process tends to be thrown out the window as you won’t want to press a button ahead of time; you’ll be worrying about just getting to the ball and tapping a button to get off any type of return. Don't be fancy, and don't try to pull off miraculous shots because it seems like that will be a recipe for disaster.

Now I haven’t spoken much about serving outside of the ball that hit off virtual Roger’s head, and that’s partly because serving is just so-so. The right stick controls in general feel a bit tacked on.

You aim where the serve will go with the left stick and then the right stick lends itself to a straight up-and-down timing-based motion (you can still serve the old way as well). The same goes for the drop shots that are similarly done with the right stick.

In both cases, the same depth that can be found in the more traditional controls isn’t found in these right stick controls. If you could do more with the right stick in these instances than just move straight up-and-down then it would at least feel more natural.

But, serving aside, the gameplay still impressed me immensely.

After you wrap your head around the gameplay I’m sure you’ll want to create your own tennis player, and it seems like you’ll be in for a treat. The create-a-player mode basically revolves around picking from one of the various pre-sets and then modifying the pre-set to fit your needs.

There’s a 15 dot face system (at least that’s what I call it) where you move 15 dots around on the player’s face with the right stick to modify the facial structure. From there you can change lips, hair, eyes and so forth by cycling through a bunch of other pre-sets.

After that you set up the style of your tennis player and then set an animation for each type of shot your player can make. Honestly, I see no reason why a 360 owner can’t create a pretty close representation of Rafael Nadal in both style and look with this create-a-player system. The bummer is that you can only make a maximum of three created players.

When time was up for my play session I was genuinely disappointed because I wanted to play more. I think it’s mostly because at a time when more and more games are trying so hard to cater to everyone, Top Spin kind of goes the other direction.

There are still tutorials so anyone can get into the game if he or she wants, but I got the sense that this is a game that’s not simply going to be pick-up-and-play. If you want to succeed you’re going to need to use your mind as much as you will your skills.

Top Spin 3 Videos
Member Comments
# 1 Scott @ 06/16/08 02:06 PM
Nice article, I'm really looking forward to this one.
# 2 mgoblue @ 06/16/08 02:17 PM
Awesome, thanks Chase! I'm looking forward to a tennis game that is a bit more than pong (I know past games were better, but sometimes it's just not realistic).
# 3 Bornindamecca @ 06/16/08 05:16 PM
Can't wait. Nice impressions article, man.
# 4 Hoos @ 06/16/08 08:25 PM
Sounds great, I'm liking the challenge that the new controls inject into the game. Does anyone know what the price point is for this game?? Still gonna be around $40 like the previous version??
# 5 Scott @ 06/16/08 08:29 PM
Nope, 59.99 for 360 & PS3, 49.99 for Wii & 29.99 for DS
# 6 bases1616 @ 06/17/08 07:17 AM
If anyone plays the PS3 version please let us know how it compares to the 360 version. I am on the fence because Nadal is only in the PS3 version because he signed a exclusive deal with Sony.
# 7 DaImmaculateONe @ 06/17/08 09:24 AM
when are we gunna get a demo?
# 8 TheLetterZ @ 06/17/08 09:53 AM
Originally Posted by bases1616
If anyone plays the PS3 version please let us know how it compares to the 360 version. I am on the fence because Nadal is only in the PS3 version because he signed a exclusive deal with Sony.
We didn't play the PS3 version, so we won't be able to help you there.

Originally Posted by DaImmaculateONe
when are we gunna get a demo?
They're hoping to have it out before release. They weren't specific as to when exactly. I understand that's a tricky process.
# 9 BlyGilmore @ 06/17/08 10:01 AM
while i didn't play the ps3 version I did get to see it in action - looked almost identical to the 360 version.
# 10 fishepa @ 06/17/08 12:03 PM
Looking forward to it!
# 11 matt247 @ 06/17/08 11:12 PM
Originally Posted by bases1616
If anyone plays the PS3 version please let us know how it compares to the 360 version. I am on the fence because Nadal is only in the PS3 version because he signed a exclusive deal with Sony.
Get the 360 version if you want to play online. The 360 has World tour mode and the PS3 does not.
# 12 Scott @ 06/17/08 11:17 PM
Oh well, I'll be getting the PS3 version, so whoever gets that, I'll be glad to play online.

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