Top Spin 4 review

Top Spin 4 on the Wii is nothing short of a disaster in terms of matching what EA did back in 2009. The controls are sloppy and inaccurate, there’s a baffling lack of MotionPlus support, no online multiplayer and the Career Mode can’t offer the depth and variety of the HD cousins. In short, Top Spin 4 Wii is an afterthought meted out to the console with the largest install base in the hopes of grabbing a few extra sold copies while the real effort went to the other platforms.

Without an online component, multiplayer options are limited to playing King of the Court (a winner-stays on set of 1-on-1 challenges) for up to four players, an 8-player bracketed Tournament of 1-on-1 games, or a handful of minigames. In truth, the latter of those options is the only compelling one because some genuine thought was put into the minigames.

Above: 360/PS3 screenshot

Revolving around the placement of shots, these minigames place ice on the court that breaks and eventually shatters as it’s cracked by shots, turns ball impacts into paint splashes, offers targets that dole out points when hit, create “hot spots” that if hit result in a loss and so on. They’re clever in that same way Virtua Tennis’ training modes use the basic idea of tennis to do something new, but they also hammer home one absolutely unavoidable point: actually controlling Top Spin 4 is a pain in the ass.

On paper, the control scheme seems solid enough. Pressing C on the Nunchuk (which is required, by the way) enacts dashes along the baseline or toward the net at the expense of stamina. Holding Z offers a drop shot, while holding B does a lob. From there, it’s simply an issue of doing the right motion to pick your flat, top spin or slice shots. And therein lies the problem. Slices are supposed to be triggered by starting high across the body and swinging low and outward, top spins are the opposite, while flat spins are just a normal horizontal motion.

Above: 360/PS3 screenshot

Long-time Wii owners will probably see the problem here without MotionPlus. The Wii Remote doesn’t really care where you swing, just that the accelerometer picks up on the general direction – which it doesn’t, often, even if you’re doing the motion correctly. Coupled with the idea that one has to swing harder for a Power shot or normally for a Control version and that the threshold for either isn’t well-defined, and the controls end up reading your intents about half the time if you’re lucky.

It’s an enormously frustrating process, paired up with a loose timing-based system for determining shot accuracy, all while using the Nunchuk’s analog stick to control both moving the player around and placing a shot after you’ve swung. Throw in serves that are either a “safe” single button press/stick aim process or a more goofy toss-up/swing down two-step while holding the B button and hitting the sweet spot of an on-screen meter and you have a recipe for confusion.

Above: 360/PS3 screenshot

After cobbling together a character from available sex, face, clothing, and voice options, one can jump in and start trying to suss things out rather quickly. In contrast to the more formal setup of the HD versions, the Wii iteration instead breaks the career into a minigame challenges and match-ups against single opponents or smallish tourneys. The minigames are meant to teach the basics, but they tend to exacerbate how frustrating it is to nail down a consistent top spin shot or place the ball just so when fighting with the controls. Coaches are present, and offer a basic bonus to stats, but none of the more advanced objectives seen in the HD versions.

There’s simply no other way to say it: Top Spin 4 on the Wii is a complete disappointment. After seeing how well 2K Czech had turned things around on the HD consoles, we were hopeful things would be as solid on Nintendo’s motion-controlled monster. Instead, the game reads like a laundry list of things that didn’t happen. No online. No MotionPlus. No intuitive controls. No fun.

Jun 30, 2011

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