Video Game Rentals Delivered

Top Spin 2

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-02-07 13:26:20

Top Spin 2 (Rank C) vs. Virtua Tennis 3 (Rank B) vs. Maria Sharapova (SS)

Top Spin 2
Developer: Pam Development
Publisher: 2K Sports
Date: 3/29/06

Virtua Tennis 3
Developer: Sega-AM3, ported by Sumo Digital
Publisher: Sega
Date: 3/20/07

Virtua Tennis also available for PlayStation 3

Maria Sharapova
Developer: God
Publisher: Yelena and Yuri Sharapova
Date: 4/19/87

I think we'd all choose option #3 in a heartbeat, but it's a bit of a push between Top Spin 2 and Virtua Tennis 3.

Top Spin 2 is a technical game, requiring some investment to climb its learning curve. In fact, if you're not a tennis fan (having a passing knowledge of where and when to set up shots), you're likely to be bewildered by all the balls whizzing by you in your first game. The four face buttons correspond to flat, slice, top spin, and lob shots. The two triggers allow access to advanced variations, including "risk" shots, which are so exactingly tricky to execute that some players may decide to forgo ever using them.

You can muck around with 24 real players, or create your own via the career system. Hardcore tennis nuts will enjoy this aspect of Top Spin 2 - over five seasons, you claw your way to the top of the rankings by balancing training to upgrade your stats, milking a sponsor for loot, and competing in tournaments for winnings and ranking.

Top Spin 2 is a decent package. The physics are excellent (play on clay or grass is decidedly different), it looks decent, and offers online play. Its shortcomings are few, but noticeable: annoying load times, an awful tutorial (especially considering the learning curve), and the fact that you have to use a created player for ranked online matches. You'll have to spend a lot of offline hours to seriously compete for online ranking. Top Spin 2 is best suited for tennis fanatics who demand a more technical simulation of the sport, gamers who enjoy battling punishing gameplay, and devotees of the original game (Top Spin 2 is essentially Top Spin swiped over with a coat of next-gen paint).

Virtua Tennis 3 has its roots in the arcade. A blurry yellow streak trails the ball, and the music evokes the cheery excitement of coin-op machines, although it's not nearly as annoying as some of Sega's other traditional fare. Features have been added and refined (again, a thin coat of next-gen paint), but the core gameplay is essentially identical to the original arcade and Dreamcast classics, so if you're a fan of the series, you know exactly what to expect. Virtua Tennis 3 controls much the same as Top Spin 2 (there are only so many possible variations on what is essentially glorified Pong), except that Virtua Tennis 3 provides much more of an intuitive "pick up and play" experience. You still need to position yourself to attack and defend properly, but whereas the slightest misplay in Top Spin 2 results in missed shots, Virtua Tennis 3 allows you to hit weak returns unless you're completely out of position. Thus, it's easier to rally, which results in less frustration and more fun. This isn't to say that Virtua Tennis 3 is an easy game; it's just easy to learn. The difficulty does ramp up as you progress through the JRPG flavored career mode, and mastering Virtua Tennis 3 requires no small effort.

Aside from this core gameplay difference, Virtua Tennis 3 provides much the same features as Top Spin 2: career mode, exhibition and tournament modes, real tennis players, training mini-games, online play, etc. It's the sheer accessibility of Virtua Tennis 3 that causes me to recommend it over Top Spin 2. It's simply more fun and addicting. You really couldn't use Top Spin 2 as a party game, but four player doubles matches on Virtua Tennis 3 are intensely fantastic with players of any skill. Virtua Tennis 3 is great for messing around with friends unfamiliar with the game, it offers sufficient depth for the hardcore gamer, and still plays a reasonable facsimile to the actual sport.

Also available for PlayStation 3

Maria Sharapova is a 6'2" Amazonian tennis goddess who announced her magnificence by conquering 2004's Wimbledon at the tender age of 17. This franchise is not a one time wonder. Numerous awards and victories continue to be awarded to each iteration: Sharapova 2006 seized the U.S. Open title and Sharapova 2008 conquered the Australian Open. Unfortunately, she exhibits the occasional glitch: shoulder injuries brought on by a stressful service motion can occasionally cause her to crash.

Nevertheless, sporting power and agility, Maria Sharapova is easily technically superior to either Top Spin 2 or Virtua Tennis 3. Sharapova plays offensively, making for excitingly fast paced and aggressive risk/reward gameplay. She is visually gorgeous, and her lovingly crafted bump-map textures are evocatively mesmerizing. Her physics engine, as she bounces and bobs around the court, is truly a work of wonder.

Unfortunately, Maria Sharapova is extremely inaccessible. There's only one copy in existence, and she makes more money than you can count. Even if you were to get ahold of her, the incompatibility issues would prevent her from running on your platform. Nevertheless, Maria Sharapova is stellar, and cannot be praised enough.

Maria Sharapova - Rank SS (Shoopah Seck-see)

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