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DS  header logo

Top Spin 3

For: DS

PAM hits a winner

Product: Top Spin 3 | Developer: PAM Development | Publisher: 2K Sports | Format: DS | Genre: Sports | Players: 1
Top Spin 3 DS, thumbnail 1

Whilst it doesn't have much to be jealous of, the Nintendo DS must look over at the shiny PSP and its beautifully realised Virtua Tennis series and wish for a similarly refined 'real' tennis game. And we don't mean the real tennis played by fat monarchs in 16th century courts (Google it) or anthropomorphic fuzzy animals. We mean proper tennis.

Of course, we've got nothing against the lighter, zanier examples out there. But sometimes you want something that replicates the sport a little more faithfully, that affords you nuanced controls and the chance to play as a real-life pro.

In the past, the only tennis game to come close to the fantastic Virtua Tennis on any format has been Top Spin. This is partly because it plays fairly similarly to the Sega masterpiece, but it also adds its own distinctive slant to the genre.

Now Top Spin 3 has arrived on DS, allowing owners of Nintendo's portable marvel to challenge Federer and co. in a proper fully-featured take on the sport. The good news is it plays a mean game of tennis, and offers plenty for the discerning tennis fan to get their teeth into.

The controls are fluid and cover virtually every shot in the tennis book. Slice, top spin, lob and flat shots are all mapped to the four face buttons, while special shots (angled and power) are placed on the 'L' and 'R' buttons respectively. Press and hold one of these and a power bar will appear, requiring you to release as it hits the sweet spot.

We were relieved to see that there's been no ill-advised touchscreen implementation, with the D-pad sensibly used to take care of your movement around the court. The touchscreen has been utilized for activating a limited-use speed-enhancing modifier, but it's not a particularly vital feature.

The tennis has a nice ebb and flow to it, with plenty of scope for long rallies. Hitting the ball is not a matter of timing your button press – rather, it's a case of getting into position to make a shot as soon as possible. Once you've done this you can start holding the shot button and the direction you want the shot to go in. The longer you hold these, the more power and accuracy you'll be able to hit the ball with.

And so, like real life tennis, it becomes a matter of positioning and anticipation. You can return most of the balls played to you with a simple jab of one of the buttons, but if you haven't built up sufficient power you'll put over a weak shot that will likely get smashed into the middle of next week. Likewise if you're stretching for the ball your player will be left exposed to a shot into space.

As you might imagine, this kind of intuitive gameplay relies on accurate visual feedback, and Top Spin 3 doesn't disappoint. The animation is mostly excellent, with players moving and hitting the ball smoothly and realistically. There's a real sense of weight and momentum, and you'll be able to make an educated guess as to what shot your opponent is about to make by their body-shape. We did, however, find the stock animation for players waiting to return a serve a little odd, as it resembles the sort of shuffling dance you'd expect to find in a 1980s disco.

Unfortunately, but perhaps understandably, the largely excellent animation system has taken its toll elsewhere. Top Spin 3 isn't the prettiest DS game on the shelves, with player models looking at best a little odd. The likes of Roger Federer look badly disfigured, his face a mess of jaggy textures and rough edges.

A further hit in performance can be observed in terms ofis evident in the speed. While the sense of weight is impressive, you'll never feel like you've hit a 130mph serve – even if the computer tells you as much. The difference in pace between a big hitter like Andy Roddick and a finesse player like Andy Murray doesn't feel as pronounced as we would have expected.

Still, for the meat of the game – the Career mode – you'll be crafting your own would-be champion and working your way up the rankings ladder. Starting with a blank slate and a few points to spend on skill upgrades, it's up to you to complete training mini-games, enter special events and win tournaments to boost your rankings and develop your player's abilities. It proves to be an absorbing task, as you mould your player however you see fit.

Fancy playing the baseline game with laser-guided shots right into the corners? Concentrate on your forehand, backhand and precision stats then. Want to play the serve and volley game? You'll be needing a healthy boost to your – wait for it – serve and volley stats. It's all very involving and compelling, and is just the sort of in-depth tennis experience that the DS needed.

Sadly the multiplayer options are a little less fleshed out. All there is on offer here is multi-card play – no single-card and no online modes. It's a shame, as tennis games can provide some of the purest multi-player experiences around. If you can find a friend with a copy of the game, though, it will be worth the effort to get together. The AI isn't what you'd call stunning in single player mode, with opponents leaving themselves open to the same tricks repeatedly.

Despite the drawbacks in terms of presentation, speed and AI, not to mention the glaring multiplayer omissions, Top Spin 3 plays the best game of no-nonsense tennis on the circuit. Whilst PAM hasn't quite served an ace it will be difficult for any of its rivals to get a decent return in.

Top Spin 3
Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy | 14 August 2008
Though suffering from weak visuals and slightly ponderous pace, Top Spin 3's tight controls and involving career mode see it challenging at the top of the DS tennis rankings
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