Review: Top Spin 3 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Top Spin 3
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: PAM Development
Genre: Sports
Release Date: 6/24/2008

Do you remember way back when (uhm…assuming your age is near mine), in high school gym class, you could gauge interest in sports based on what position someone chose during softball games? The most enthusiastic would choose first base, or pitcher, or short stop, the less interested might choose second, and the least would choose something in the outfield? Well, way, way back behind those outfield kids is where I sat. And I mean “sat,” too. I fondly recall sitting in far, far right field with my friend Anne. We just went back there and talked. We didn’t even bother coming in when the at-bat team changed. So why in the hell am I doing sports reviews? Tennis is the one with the net, right?

Top Spin 3 is the latest in the Top Spin franchise from 2K Sports, boasting improved graphics, realistic control, and a plethora of playable pros. So, was it enough to garner a modicum of interest, or will I be putting out a hit on Lucard?

Read on to find out…

Story/Mode

The game offers as much as you could ask for in terms of playable modes: exhibition, career, training, and a character creation option. The exhibition is, obviously, a quick and dirty, lets-just-play-a-game mode, whereas the career mode offers much greater depth, up to and including the ability to play some “famous” historic tennis pros. I put famous in quotes, as I have no idea who any of these people are. I am, to put it mildly, not this game’s target demographic.

Mode Rating: Unparalleled(I can’t think of any other modes I would ask for, assuming I liked tennis.)

Graphics

The graphics on this thing are excellent. Players look and move extremely well and, while they may still be on the near side of the uncanny valley, it’s not hard to believe you are watching a live-action tennis match. This is, of course, ignoring the likelihood that whatever the tennis association is would allow someone into the pros who can’t manage to return a serve… Backgrounds are as gorgeous as they are varied. The game offers a large variety of both indoor and outdoor courts (they’re called courts, right?) that all look fantastic.

Graphics Rating: Classic (I imagine these courts would look identical to their real life counterparts, assuming I knew what those looked like.)

Sound

OK – the first thing I noticed (and always notice) is the music. What the hell is up with the “I like Asian girls” track? Seriously. Ignoring that, the music is actually pretty decent, with contributing tracks from a fairly wide variety of pop artists. Remember Jamiroquai? They’re in here! There is actually a surprising amount of indy-rockish stuff considering the game. I had no idea tennis fans were into Franz Ferdinad, I guess. Sound effects are excellent as well – it sounds exactly like watching a tennis match on TV, assuming anybody does that. Does anybody do that? Seems like watching golf. Or baseball. Anyways, and most importantly, the girl grunts sound good.

Sound Rating: Classic (Ugh! Double up! Ugh! Ugh! Oh yeah, baby…)

Control & Gameplay

Ah. And here is the rub. I absolutely hate the control setup. Hate, hate, hate. You don’t press a button to hit the ball – oh, no – you need to release at just the right time. The learning curve on basic controls is extremely daunting. After a long, long bout with the training, I was lucky to return half the serves. And during “easy” mode in regular gameplay, this ratio dropped into the toilet. If I never hear the word “love” again, it will be too soon. There was no sense of just barely having the hang of it, which would make me want to come back for more. No, there was only an intense loathing and a driving need for alcohol. Lucard owes me a 30-year single malt. An intensely steep learning curve coupled with awkward, counter-intuitive controls makes for an unforgivably frustrating experience.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Worthless (those controllers are $50, I don’t need to be throwing them.)

Replayability

Replayability on this beast is solely based on difficulty settings. If you can manage to sit through the game on a lower difficulty setting, hey, who knows, you may be masochistic enough to try it a little harder.

Reaplayabilty Rating: Bad (I don’t even want to play this game, let alone replay it…)

Balance

Well. “Steep learning curve” is sort of the antithesis of good balance, isn’t it? The game starts out incredibly difficult, and, I imagine, only gets harder. I wouldn’t know, as I didn’t make it past easy thanks to my hatred of the controls. I suppose that once you get past that initial learning stage (the 20 hours or so it must take to master even the basics of gameplay), the balance may seem a little better. I wouldn’t know, I’ve got better things to do with my time.

Balance Rating: Worthless (I thought easy mode was supposed to be, you know, easy.)

Originality

I don’t really know how a game with “3” stuck at the end of the title can constitute originality. I’ve also never played (and, if this game is any indication, never will) any of the predecessors. The control may be “original” in its ability to make me hate myself, but I can think of no actual strong points.

Originality Rating: Worthless (As original as Land Before Time 15.)

Addictiveness

Its too bad, really, that this section is called addictiveness and not “complete and utter repulsion,” as the game would land huge points in that. 10 minutes into the in-game tutorial and I already wanted to never, ever play again. Once again, I imagine that if one were to take the time to get past the initial learning phase, it may become fun to play. It just takes a really, really long time to get there.

Addictiveness Rating: Worthless (10 seconds was too much for me, and I HAD to play it.)

Appeal Factor

There is precisely one target market for Top Spin: People who love tennis, indy rock, and horrible, debilitating gameplay. I can’t imagine that’s too large a group.

Appeal Factor Rating: Dreadful (Sweet jesus do I hate this game.)

Miscellaneous

Once again, a sports game that goes above and beyond disinteresting me has a fun character creation mode that saves it from a completely abysmal score. The graphics engine allows a great depth of character modeling, and the player stats are also easily adjustable to allow customization in playing style. Of course, I have no idea what the difference between a flat shot and a slice shot is, so I’m not the one to ask about that sort of thing. Oh, but you can adjust grunt frequency, so there is some appeal to my inner pervert. Overall, though, the character creation mode is extremely well done.

Miscellaneous Rating: Classic (Big-breasted grunting girls earn points from me.)

The Scores
Story: Unparalleled
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Classic
Control and Gameplay: Worthless
Replayability: Bad
Balance: Worthless
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Worthless
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Classic
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
An absolutely gorgeous game with a control scheme that will make you want to rip out your eyes. Lucard, you owe me expensive booze.

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