Tennis is a back and forth kind of game. It is a fickle mistress that likes to play with your emotions. Just when you start to get your confidence up, it will offer you a bitch slap that will quickly put you in your place. That is what compels me to continue through my failures. The promise of a hard fought victory is the best feeling in the world, even if your opponent is only a piece of silicon electronics.
And so begins another love-hate relationship with a tennis game. Never before has there been a game that is so utterly frustrating by nature, but at the same time so compelling. Top Spin 3 is the equivalent of an abusive boyfriend. It has no quarrels about beating the shit out of you one second, then just when you, the player, are getting ready to leave for good, it rolls over and begs for forgiveness, asking you in that oh so gentile tone to come back. Most will believe that it is truly remorseful, that is until the next match starts and the vicious backhand (the term applies in both scenarios) is once again lashing you across the face. And the vicious cycle repeats itself...
The difficulty bar is set far above all prior titles in the series, but is that a bad thing? In a word, yes. This is not a game for the casual observer. In order to be successful, many many hours need to be put in. A large reason for this is the controls, which are about as user friendly as the cockpit of a jet would be to a toddler. Only after many hours of practice and tweaking of your player's stats, will you see the fruits of your labor.
Some of the new shots have been moved over to the right control stick. Past Top Spin games have never used this analog stick, but 2K Sports have found a way to make use it in one of the most irritating ways possible. The main idea is that to successfully complete a shot, you have to press down on the right stick, which will lock you in the position he or she is standing, as they charge up for a return shot. Then at the perfect second, the right stick must be thrust forward to return the ball.
The caveats in the new control scheme is where the frustration arises. If you inch the stick forward too early, your shot will be weak and hook to the left. However, if you return the shot too late, then you over-hit your shot and you miss the court all together. Not to mention that if the stick does not go directly straight forward, it will follow the direction the stick is favoring.
The best piece of advice that could be offered is to take all tutorials, because it is very difficult to pick up the controls from general gameplay. Expect to have no control of any shots for at least the first twenty matches. Once the acclimation occurs, things become much easier, but until that point, many hairs will be extracted from your skull in white-hot, seething rage.
If the controls are understood, then there is very little else to complain about. Most features are an extremely polished version of what made Top Spin 2 so successful. Among the highlights are a robust character creation, a rather lengthy career mode, which allows for further character customization and development, as well as a new tournament mode offers the opportunity for couch play. With a diverse selection of characters available for play, there is not much more a player could ask for.
This is not a game for a casual sit down. Top Spin 2 or Virtua Tennis may be a better choice for you, if you are looking for instant gratification. All of that not withstanding, If you are a die hard fan of prior Top Spin games and plan to sink a substantial amount of time into practicing and character development, then this is the game for you. There will be enough features, characteristics and tweaks, to keep you busy for months to come.
Then the questions becomes, if you are going to spend so much time learning the new controls, wouldn't be better served learning how to play tennis in real life? I'm just saying...
Below is a trailer for Top Spin 3 for the Xbox 360: