I can't stop playing Top Spin 3, even if it's mercilessly kicking my ass. It's been ages since a sports game has grabbed me like Take Two's latest tennis masterpiece, despite hating it after the first half hour or so. I was ready to throw it on the scrap heap of other sporting titles that dared to mess with tried-and-true (read: old and boring) controls, but somewhere along the way I realized how a few subtle yet ingenious modifications can produce an utterly new experience. Couple that with a bevy of other solid features, and Top Spin 3 truly explores the whole "next generation" of video games.
Longtime tennis players looking for a slightly better-looking version of the same game they're used to playing will be surprised by Top Spin 3. While the visuals are top-notch, the selection of available players is impressive, and the list of locations and options is solid, none of these is particularly groundbreaking. After all, its predecessor also sported sleek graphics, a big roster of current stars, and most of the important locales on the tennis schedule. Even your initial match might generate a ho-hum response, since anyone who's ever swung a virtual racket will be able to hold his own for a few points against a computer-controlled opponent.
Top Spin 3 truly explores the whole "next generation" of video games.
It doesn't take long to realize, though, that you don't really have much control over where your shots are going if you try to play Top Spin 3 the "old" way. Without boring you with the details, you owe yourself a trip to Top Spin school to learn all the nuances of the new swing mechanics in all their glory. After you stick with it for an hour or so, though, it will definitely "click" – and that moment, my friends, is when the real depth of the game comes into clear focus.
What else does Top Spin 3 have up its sleeve? Plenty. It all starts with the career mode. Sporting a much more streamlined approach to training and event participation, allocation of experience points across attributes, and equipment purchases, it's light years ahead of its predecessor in terms of accessibility. The undeniably punishing difficulty that accompanies your attempts to climb the single-player ladder will likely cause plenty of hours of frustration, however. If you're anything like me, the relative ease of the amateur and qualifying classes will be a breeze. But just wait until the next round (called the Juniors) comes a-calling. You're immediately thrust into competition with players who are much, much more skilled than your created avatar, and the only way to get those precious allocation points is to take your beatings like a man and learn how to somehow, some way, win a match or two over the course of a few seasons.
This is where you'll likely find yourself heading back to the training grounds again and again, as you'll need to build up your ability to harness an arsenal of power, finesse, and standard shots to have a prayer at beating your competition. The career mode is a massive, demanding series of events that will challenge even the most dedicated of gamers. To vault to the top of the world rankings is an accomplishment that few will make. As it is, I continue to slog my way through the middle tiers, slowly working on all of the pieces of the puzzle that may eventually allow me to break out of the mid-50s, and get into the Grand Slam events that entice me so. I suppose I can dream.
Online is also a sold offering, with the standard head-to-head options as well as a new World Tour mode that allows you to hop into new tournaments every two weeks. As you can imagine, there are legions of dedicated Top Spinners out there who must have spent weeks honing their skills. Assuming you can make your way through this landscape of excellence (and you may even learn a few things), there's plenty of additional fun to be had playing against others. Myself, I choose to battle the few buddies I know online who are somewhere around my skill level.
Top Spin 3 is ridiculously good. It's also ridiculous in how much it asks from you, the player, in order to be successful. The payoff is fabulous, but the journey is perilous and by no means meant for everyone. Somewhere along the line, I developed just enough patience to enjoy it and learn from my mistakes. There's no guarantee that you will do the same – but you should give it a spin.