Review: Top Spin 3 [Wii]

Infendo

Top Spin 3 Wii

[Guest review by Brian]

Don’t hang up the Wii Sports Tennis racquet just yet.

To say I’m a tennis nut would be a bit of an understatement.  Why else would I drop $49.99 plus change on a Wii tennis game without having any reviews  available to consider?  Having spent a few hours with the game, I can say that this is a $29.99 title, not a premium purchase.  I feel like my extra $20.00  paid for the franchise’s name and the licensing fees for the featured tennis players.

I don’t know if it was ignorance or the typical half hearted approach to third party Wii development, but 2K Sports totally ignored the best things about Wii  Sports Tennis in this game.  The first glaring omission is the lack of left handed player support.  Wii Sports offers this, but a flagship title like Top  Spin 3 doesn’t have to sense to do so?  It’s a big disappointment and one that’s not mentioned in any of the fine print.  That’s what I get for assuming.   The second and even worse flaw is latency.  Wii Sports tennis has a very smooth response when you’re serving or striking the ball.  My Mii swings when I  swing and I can control where the ball goes.  One of the joys in Wii Sports Tennis is the “power serve.”  Hitting the ball at it’s apogee rewards you with a  sizzling serve.  It takes a bit of skill to pull off and feels so satisfying everytime you do it.  Top Spin 3 relies on the same tired and boring “power  meter” mechanic.  There would be no reason to complain had 2K Sports emulated the Wii Sports Tennis serving mechanic.  Instead they created a service game  that makes you feel more like a bystander than a player.  Isn’t a more realistic tennis experience what we were all hoping for with the Wii’s first true  tennis game?  It looks like someone didn’t get the memo.

To serve, you press the C button on your Nunchuck and then swing your Wiimote hand up, tossing the ball.  This starts a power meter that has the usual red  sweet spot that will deliver the most power.  The sliding pointer for the power meter moves too fast and the sweet spot is in the middle of the meter instead  of the top.  This often leads to you zipping past the sweet spot and spraying double faults into the opponent’s court, or going for a quickie, which leaves  you hitting the net.  You could argue that serving isn’t easy so why should it be easy in the game?  Let’s get right to the problem.  After you swing the  Wiimote down to serve, your player waits a good few seconds AKA eternity, and finally serves the ball.  It feels awful and any chance of interactive  satisfaction is lost.  A power meter and no latency on the serve would’ve been acceptable; harder yes, but better than sitting around and waiting.

So how does the gameplay stack up after the serve?  It’s a whole lot better.  Being able to use your Nunchuck thumbstick to control where your player runs  and aims shots is excellent, but it also gives you more opportunity for “brain freeze” moments as you are trying to use the two controllers at once.  I can  accept it as a bit of realism in the way that tennis is a thinking man’s game and you do get tricked or trick yourself sometimes.  Say you need to run to the  left for a ball, but want to return it to the right.  It takes some getting used to.  Changing your strokes in the heat of battle is also a mental test, just  like in real life.  Mixing it up with directionals, lobs, drop shots and more are possible, but I find myself having a hard time getting the right motions  and button presses for those moves because it’s much easier to just whack the heck out of the ball when it’s coming back at you quicker than you expect.

There’s not much latency in the gameplay after the serve, but 2K Sports’ slightly curious swinging mechanic makes the game like a tennis tutor as much as a  game.  You are asked to make your swing match the motions of your onscreen player’s swing.  Understand this.  Instead of reacting to you as in Wii Sports  tennis, this is more of a “You start the swing, then the player swings, then you have to match your swing to his swing in mid swing.”  Ok, it’s not terrible,  but it doesn’t feel good unless you match the players swing.  When the two of you swing in sync you are rewarded with a more powerful stroke.  It’s a  satisfying feeling but I would rather the game just respond to the speed of my swing and act instantly.  The way it is, you tend to find yourself starting  your stroke, delaying your stroke, and then finishing your stroke.

Never one to disappoint, 2K Sports out of the kindness of their heart left out some features from the Wii version of this game.  There’s no true career mode  and no online play, although who would want online with a serving mechanic like the one that’s in place?  The Wii version is lacking some of the pro players  that the other systems have and you can’t create your own players on the Wii.  There are a number of cheesy fake players at your disposal to make up for  this.  I rarely use the female players in any tennis game, but no Venus Williams?  That’s a loss of a few points for me.

You do have 2 or 4 person multiplayer available.  I haven’t tried this, but I imagine you would have to stagger your positioning so as not to kill each other  with the Nunchuck cables of death.  In case you’re wondering, yes the cable can and will bitch slap you like a stripper when you’re playing this game.   There’s also the inescapable fear of yanking the cord out of it’s socket.  After a bit too many whippings and scares I adopted the following two  methods to control the cable.  One way is to keep the Nunchuck at your midsection and close to your body.  This gives your Wiimote arm more cable length to  play with.  The other method is to mimic holding a racquet two fisted.  Your Wiimote hand goes on top and your Nunchuck hand sits directly underneath it.  Provide only enough seperation for you to operate the thumbstick.  Swing both arms together in a fluid motion to perform your strokes.

A minor nitpick in the game’s menu is that some settings I make are lost everytime I restart the game.  There’s an annoying theme song that I have to turn  down, hint pop ups to disable and so on.  Everytime I go back to the Wii and play the game those settings are lost and I have to change them all over again.   It’s a tiny annoyance, but seriously, one that shouldn’t exist.

Then there’s the graphics.  Don’t you get tired of having to hear, read, or say “They’re good… (pause)… for the Wii.”  Ok, the graphics are quite decent.  Player animations are excellent and fluid.  The player likenesses are very good.  Yes there are the jagged lines to be found.  I’m playing on a HD LCD TV with component cables.  Other details like the audience tend to look horrible.  I almost wish there was no audience and all the graphics resources had been spent on the players and their immediate surroundings instead.  Another gripe is that no marks are left on the court during game play.  Why even my favorite tennis game, Virtua Tennis World Tour for the PSP, shows markings on the court when the ball hits  the ground.

Let me be totally honest, I was hoping for Virtua Tennis to come to the Wii first.  To me it’s the perfect tennis franchise, having a feel of arcade style  gameplay with tightness and depth at the same time.  I hope Sega steps up to the plate and delivers an experience beyond what Top Spin 3 offers.  Message to  Sega… “No forced latency and you’d better include left handed support.”

Is Top Spin 3 a worthy buy?  Yes, but not at the asking price.  Even if you’re a tennis lover like me, your gonna want to wait until at least twenty bucks  drops off of this game.  If your wealthy, knock yourself out, but you’ll thank me if you wait.  That statment tears me a little bit because we all know where  this is going if the game doesn’t sell well.  Instead of admitting any shortcomings, 2K Sports will tell themselves “Well it’s the Wii’s fault.  Dropping features and having latency has nothing to do with it.  I guess we won’t be bringing Top Spin 4 to the Wii.”  Then they will pat themselves  on the back, acting as if they did their best and that will be the end of that.

A Sega Virtua Tennis announcement at E3?  Yes please!

So that’s Top Spin 3, game, set and match, but not as much “love” as I was hoping for.  Tentative 3 stars (more like 2 3/4).