The Casual Critic: Top Spin 4

Written By: achangeofends - Apr• 13•11

Game: Top Spin 4 for the Wii

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Several weeks ago, I received an email asking me whether I would be interested in reviewing the new Top Spin 4 video game. I’m not one to turn down the opportunity to share my opinion (or add to my collection of tennis related items) so I said I’d be happy to give the game a try. I requested a copy for the Wii, the only game console I own and it arrived in my mailbox a few weeks later. Now, I should tell you all that the reason I own the Wii is because I can stream Netflix on it and maybe break out the Wii Fit when I’m feeling sporty. I’m not exactly what anyone would consider a video game enthusiast. For a while, I considered someone more qualified to review the game, but then I realized that most of the consumers are probably more like me. What was I looking for from Top Spin 4? A few things.

1. I wanted to be able to play tennis as my favorite players.

2. I wanted to play at Wimbledon.

3. I wanted the experience to be relatively life-like, or at least better than the tennis in Wii Sports.

I will let you know how my three goals worked out shortly, but here’s a short recap of my first time playing the game. Being as technically inept as I am, I chose to go through the full tutorial. It was kind of long and complicated, which discouraged me a little right from the get go. The most frustrating part was that it clearly wasn’t registering my movements. The tutorial wouldn’t end until I hit 3 of each type of shot, but every time I made the motion for a topspin ball (down to up), it registered as a slice (up to down). When I finally made it to match play, my first opponent ran into the wall and got stuck. It was some kind of technical glitch and I was forced to quit the match. To make sure that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way about the controls, I invited a couple of friends over to help me out, one of whom is a huge tennis fan and the other has never picked up a racket. The tennis fan struggled through the tutorial and grew frustrated when she ran into the same recognition issues I did. After watching the two of us complain, my other friend opted not to complete the tutorial at all.

We started playing a doubles match featuring Caroline Wozniacki and Vera Zvonareva against Eugenie Bouchard and Jelena Jankovic at the BNP Paribas Open. A few things stood out immediately. You use the nunchuck to move the player around the screen as well as to place the ball. The reaction time is quite poor and the players moved very slowly, which meant they often missed the ball. I would say I fared slightly better than my friend who chose not to complete the tutorial, but it didn’t seem to matter all that much. The other glaring error: the “chair umpire” voice pronounces Caroline Wozniacki’s name wrong. Each time I played the game as Caroline, the chair ump insisted on calling her Caroline “Woznianki.” How did that make it through the trail period? It’s not like she’s Eugenie Bouchard (we’ll get there in a second). She’s the No. 1 player in the world and the a video game that uses her likeness should pronounce her name correctly. In terms of actual tennis, the characters often run off screen which makes it impossible to tell whether they’re going to return the ball or not. This could be easily remedied by zooming out 10%.

Let’s quickly return to my three wishes.

1. Could I play as my favorites? Mostly. There are 25 current and former professionals featured in the game, including, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, James Blake, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Andy Roddick, Nikolay Davydenko, Stanislas Wawrinka, Gilles Simon, Bernard Tomic, Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic, Vera Zvonareva, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina, Eugenie Bouchard, Boris Becker, Bjorn Borg, Pat Rafter, Ivan Lendl, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, and Michael Chang. Clearly, you can’t encompass everyone’s favorites in just 25 characters, but you could do a significantly better job than this. Bernard Tomic made the cut? Really? I’m not sure about you guys, but I would’ve liked to see 2 time Grand Slam champion, Lleyton Hewitt, in the game before Tomic. To be perfectly honest, there are 179 current male players more deserving of a spot in this video game. The same goes for Eugenie Bouchard. I know she’s only 17, but she’s ranked No. 372 in the world and I would venture to guess that pretty much everyone who plays this game has never heard of her. In my opinion, the exclusion of players like Maria Sharapova, Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt, Venus Williams, and Kim Clijsters is a big detraction. Also, did no one tell the creators that there are WTA “legends?” Not one of the retired players is a woman.

The creators made some attempt to give the characters separate personalities, but I would’ve loved to have seen even more of this. They have the Ana fist pump and Rafa’s victory celebrations, but Roddick didn’t tug at his shirt once. There is huge room to expand here. I would love to see Andy yell at the chair ump or Vera hide under her towel. If they decide to include Marat Safin in Top Spin 5, I can only imagine the glorious racquet smashing that would ensue.

2. There is no Wimbledon, and that makes me sad. I’m sure this had something to do with licensing, but I would venture to guess that Centre Court at Wimbledon is the most iconic tennis venue in the world and is a must in any tennis game.

3. As I said earlier, the motion recognition is not great, but that is likely isolated to the Wii. There’s really not that much movement involved in the game. You don’t even have to move your arm to serve if you don’t want to, just press the A button. However, after a grueling match on Rod Laver at the Australian Open, my shoulder was sore the next day.

This review may seem a bit critical, but only because I believe there are way to make this game even better. Overall, the game is fun and only die-hard tennis fans would nitpick the way I have. Casual fans and Wii enthusiasts will have no qualms with the choice of characters or whether they pronounce the names correctly. For true tennis players, the game does offer the ability to produce life-like shots, but the controls are sometimes difficult to master. I got significantly better at the controls each time I played and that made the game a lot more fun. There’s also a career mode where you can build your own character and work your way up to the pros. I haven’t gotten very far, but I think this could be a fulfilling long term endeavor.

*The extended version of this review includes the game trailer. Caution: it plays instantly (turn down your volume if you are at work or in class)

 

 

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