Top Spin Review (PS2)

It seems like only yesterday that Microsoft was launching their line of XSN Sports titles to take on the giants in a quest to carve out their chunk of the sports gaming pie. Great in theory, not so good in execution. The XSN titles never really grabbed that market share, but some great titles were born out of it. Among them was the original Top Spin, which would be the first different take on tennis that would attempt to unseat Virtua Tennis for the Dreamcast as the quintessential tennis game.

With the rise and demise of Microsoft Game Studios' sports titles, 2K Sports stepped in and grabbed the Top Spin franchise off the trash heap. They’d resurrect the franchise with a sequel, just in time for the Xbox 360 launch. But in the meantime, what was there to do with the Xbox-exclusive first incarnation? How do they sell it to the Sony diehards? A port was in order, and a port there would be. So, two years and ton of games after playing the first Top Spin, I was about to start playing the first Top Spin again. Only this time, it would be on the trusty old Playstation 2. Would I “love” it? Is it any “match” for the original? If I make anymore bad puns, will you all want to kick my “ace”?

I think the most logical place to start is with what is different from the Xbox version. Well, for starters, the rosters are updated. I’m sure there were some licensing deals involved in who stayed and who went, as well as the natural change in the world rankings compared to where they were two years ago. You wouldn’t want to buy Madden 2006 with 2003 rosters, right? Same goes for Top Spin. Some of the roster highlights include Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt on the men’s draw and Venus Williams and the ultra saucy, Maria Sharapova on the women’s side. Sorry Anna Kournikova stalkers, her virtual likeness now matches her actual tennis game… non-existent!

The PS2, as has become commonplace, also offers integration with the EyeToy technology. Once again, you can dump your goofy mug onto your up and comer and hit the courts. The technology is still a tad sketchy and some of the results can be downright frightening!

So, what hasn’t changed?

Pretty much everything else.

If you’re expecting anything more than basically a true port, you are going to be very disappointed. If you played the Xbox version, you’ve already played this game. However, to be fair to those who haven’t, here’s what you can expect in Top Spin.

The main single player mode in Top Spin is the Career Mode. Using a pretty basic player creator, you can tweak your players look to your liking before getting your career started. The EyeToy support that I mentioned earlier is fully functional in Career Mode, so, if you really want your face (or a version of it), now is the time. You’ll also name your character and give them a nationality before grabbing some duds and maybe some bling.

From there, you’ll move on to a pretty easily navigable map/menu system. Different regions of the world will allow you to find training, sponsors, and various tournaments. Early on, the training is going to be most important. But, in true “chicken and egg” fashion, you need sponsorship dollars and tournament winnings to be able to afford training.

Training exercises are actually the mini-games in “Top Spin”. You pay to train. If you pass, you get a ratings boost. If you fail, you get nothing, including a refund. It’s a solid system on the whole, but it doesn’t take very long to really to get your player to peak condition. Once that happens, the game can get a little monotonous. Yes, your ultimate goal is to win matches and tournaments to become the #1 player in the world, but, once you’re maxed out with skills, not only is that a little easy, but there’s nothing left to do between tournies.

The actual gameplay is very solid and really the deepest of any tennis game that has hit the market. There are safe forehands, slice shots, drop shots, high arcing lobs, and even what are deemed as “risk shots” - all fully under your control. It gives a great feeling of complexity and, really, strategy during matches that could have easily been passed over in a lot of games. You get that true tennis feel, like you’re actually thinking two or three moves ahead.

Your player can also eventually make it “In The Zone”. Nothing revolutionary in sports gaming, but basically, good play is rewarded by filling the "Zone" meter, at which point the meter used for your risky shots slows down and becomes much more manageable. It's a nice touch, but it can and will be abused by a lot of non-AI opponents.

There’s definitely a great game of tennis to be found here. The controls are complex enough to keep you interested, and it balances a nice line between sim and arcade action to appeal to most.

The classic stereotype that will forever rule this generation is that PS2 games just do not look as good as Xbox games. The PS2 has certainly come a long way graphically since the original version of Top Spin dropped. So why is it that this game is still graphically inferior to its two year old predecessor? That’s not to say that this game does look good or run smoothly, I just expected that two years in technological and programming evolution would show up visually when compared to the Xbox version.

That’s not to say that the look is any way a detractor. While the player models are pretty middle of the road, watching them move is a thing of beauty. The animations in this title are rock solid. The dives, the smashes, the swings and the saves are all fluid and exceptionally life-like. The framerate moves along at a steady clip with little to no slowdown and the transitions between animations come off seamlessly.

The courts and various venues where your matches will take place are all nicely rendered with a fairly deep level of detail. Where it does lack is in the crowd. The original version sported a far more animated and realistic crowd look and feel. This version just looks very plain and animates like cardboard. There could have been a lot more done in this area.

The sounds of the game are almost identical to the original version, but are not nearly as crisp. It almost sounds like you recorded a CD onto cassette and used that to dub the game sounds - like there wasn’t a clean transfer of audio data.

Much like the original XSN title, a lot of what will extend the shelf life for PS2 owners is online play. Sports gaming online is very team sports-heavy. Individual sports are somewhat limited and often overlooked in the genre in terms of online gaming. Not only that, this is the first tennis game on the PS2 where online play was even an option.

Overall, the game plays pretty well online. There are no major hiccups and framerates stayed solid. Like a lot of PS2 online sports games, it was difficult at times, to find a match. But, when I did, it was a nice experience. And like the old XSN version, online tournaments are available as well.

Partner that with a nice two-player interface for playing side-by-side with a friend, the multiplayer aspect of Top Spin may be its most redeeming quality.

I want to give the team at 2K Sports the benefit of the doubt and say that the overall lack of change and, to an extent, effort, is probably because they are spending so much time getting ready to launch Top Spin 2 on the Xbox 360. But even at the low price point, I can only give a borderline recommendation for people to shell out the dough on this one. Yes, people who only own a PS2 should enjoy it, because it’s the best slice of tennis action you’re going to find on that box. But, dual console owners with the choice should take the original over the port.

I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention the unbelievably long load times on this PS2 version. I’ve experienced long waits before, but some of these load times had me feeling very frustrated.

Overall, it’s a good rental quick fix if you’re longing for some tennis. But, with nothing really new from the original, a lot of you have already been there and done that.

Top Spin Score
out of 10