Tennis, Baseball, Soccer, heck even the NFL. What do all these sports have in common? Balls and men. Wait, let me reword that… The fundamental elements don’t change. Tennis sees two players hit a ball, Baseball two teams hit and catch balls, Soccer is still boring and the NFL is still full of huge (yet awesome) promotions.

For that exact reason, sports video games can often stagnate and become a case of “Been there, done that” unless the developer not only keeps it fresh, but still manages to keep the core gameplay enjoyable for both newcomers and fans of their classic series’.

Top Spin, a Tennis simulation series originally created as a title for the original Xbox way back in 2003, has successfully kept itself both fun and surprisingly ‘new’ throughout four games and a stack of sales. Top Spin 3 was quite infamous for trying to refine the controller mechanics that the prior two games had established. Players controlled their shots through a “risk” meter that required you to essentially time your shots perfectly each and every time. It was difficult to use and basically deterred me from playing the game every time I felt the urge to have a hit across the net.

2K Czech is at the reigns of Top Spin 4 and they’re taking the series in a more casual direction – which is both good and bad, but onto that later. Instead of controlling your shots through the aforementioned “risk” meter, your four face buttons now control the immediate shots. With that being said there’s still a lot of control afforded through this system and suppressing the button for varied amounts of times directly controls the speed and power of your shots that you play. The system is ultimately simple but it works – and that’s what matters during those tight points and important rallies. My one gripe with this new system was how difficult it was to time “Perfect” and “Good” shots – but after a few hours of practice – I nailed it. On another note there’s very little analog control in the game besides your serving which once again feels simple and great.

Like I mentioned in my opening statement, sports games often stagnate and become repetitive, and unfortunately the campaign in Top Spin 4 is hit and miss. Top Spin 4 features an amazingly in-depth player creation system, one that allows you to make either Fabio or the ugliest person to ever grace the clay.  From then on it’s all business as you play through one exhibition match and one special tournament each month. The special events range from simple things like practice matches to new and interesting promotional events that allow you to earn fans an in-game experience points. Your XP can be assigned to different areas based on three major trees, those being offensive baseline, defensive baseline and finally serve and volley.

It’s extremely rewarding to see your custom player go from seemingly nobody to star of the digital tennis world. As mentioned above though there’s some slight gripes with the campaign, the most noticeable of which being the AI scaling. Upon playing my first tournament I came up against Roger Federer, perhaps the greatest player in Tennis history.  As it should, this promptly caused my palms to become sweaty and my skill levels suddenly became questionable.

Needless to say though, it was pointless. I absolutely demolished Federer in what I would call a cakewalk, a warm-up, it was too easy. Whilst I thought this was to allow you more experience with some of the games greats, it really ruined the impact of seeing the superstars for the first time. All of that being said though, once you hit the higher levels (The game is capped at 20), the players we admire on television become their fearsome selves on the court.

Now, once you complete the base campaign your focus will no doubt shift over to the equally great multiplayer experience. One of the great ideas I’ve seen of late in multiplayer gaming is a “World Tour” mode that sees you pitted against a plethora of other players in a desperate bid to grab the number one global ranking. Throughout each week there is a new ‘season’ that can be won by one single player. All in-game actions that you conduct, whether it be singleplayer or multiplayer, net you experience that not only drives the replayability factor but also gives you a ‘tangible’ reward for your hard work.

Whilst Top Spin 4 is not without it’s faults, it’s definitely a step in the right direction both for new and old fans like myself.  A great career mode hampered by some poor AI scaling issues is redeemed by an intuitive multiplayer experience and incredibly strong and easily recognizable player roster.

Here’s The Rundown:

+ Great gameplay that is easy to master and understand
+ Healthy roster ensures some great matchups
- Scaling in career mode is a bit strange
- Control system is hit and miss… Pun intended.

Top Spin 4 was developed by 2K Czech and published by 2K Sports. Top Spin 4 was released on the 15th of March 2011 for $59.99 on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Our copy was provided by the publisher. The game was played til completion in single player and split hours across both multiplayer and split-screen multiplayer.