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April 20, 2011

Top Spin Serves It Up


Two new sports games have not received much attention in the gaming press, but they should, so let's look at both overlooked titles.

The most worthy is "Top Spin 4," a fun representation of the tennis experience — and it comes with Andre Agassi as a shaved-headed champion ready to mess you up, son.

Like previous "Top Spins," you can choose to play the introductory I-am-a-champion mode, in which you pretend to compete as Agassi, Pete Sampras, Serena Williams and 22 other legends.

Or, you may choose the more challenging task of creating a player from scratch, male or female, slowly improving to become a top seed.

When you win a match or accomplish a target goal (such as hitting 50 slices really well), you earn points to build up your stamina, speed, serve and other athletic attributes.

As a longtime fan of the "Top Spin" series, I created a female tennis player from scratch, because for some reason I enjoy watching women playing tennis. Call me crazy.

There's much to love here. Tennis players look, move and feel realistic, as if you're the Oh Mighty Almighty, controlling real pros as you might marionettes.

The learning curve is short in figuring out how and when to properly hit a flat ball, normal ball, top-spin, killer serve, volley and drop shot.

And in the vein of the "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" series, "Top Spin" is enjoyable from point to point, as well as satisfying in the way your created-from-scratch character goes from good to ferocious. I've beaten Serena Williams and lost to her. That is good balance of difficulty.

Down side: There are no announcers. It's true that many athletic games with announcers become rote after you've heard their same opinions ad nauseum. But with no announcers, you might as well turn the sound off and listen to music or audio books.

The other unheralded sports game is "Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 — 3DS" for Nintendo's new 3DS handheld. It's no "Top Spin 4," but it is an enjoyable soccer experience typical of the "PES" series — and it's in 3-D, which makes it cooler.

The wrinkle holding back "PES 2011" is the same trouble that inhibits all soccer games: Computer-controlled rival soccer players run faster than you, whether they're dribbling a soccer ball or stealing yours.

I'm sick of that idiotic flaw in soccer games. I don't know why computer-assisted, opposing players are such demon supermen. It's not a fatal flaw, but it's aggravating.

Speaking of flaws, "Top Spin 4" has an irritating one. You can unlock and play a version of Agassi when he had shaggy hair in his youth — but only if you buy the game at a certain sponsor store.

Dear game makers: We gamers are turned off by your product when we find out we didn't get everything in it for $60, if we bought it elsewhere. I think you should refund gamers $5 each for discriminating against gamers' shaggy-Agassi desires.

("Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 — 3DS" by Konami retails for $40 for 3DS — Plays fun. Looks cool. Very challenging. Rated "E." Three stars out of four.)

("Top Spin 4" by 2K Sports retails for $40 for PS 3, Xbox 360 and Wii — Plays very fun. Easy to challenging modes. Looks great. Rated "E." Four stars out of four.)

Doug Elfman is an award-winning entertainment columnist who lives in Las Vegas. He blogs at http://www.lvrj.com/columnists/Doug_Elfman.html.

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