Its art-style might be as flat as a pancake, but some of the package's mini-games come closer to true simulation than sports franchise's that have been iterated upon for years. The reason behind its success is the PlayStation Move, which is a wildly responsive unit when used in the right regard. It may have been a launch-title for Sony's motion unit, but Sports Champions will probably always set the target level for most motion controlled games. It really is that good.
Unfortunately, those that have spent time with Zindagi's title will find it hard to adjust to motion controlled games that don't do things quite as well. Despite touting PlayStation Move support as a feature, Top Spin 4 unfortunately falls short of the Sports Champions assessment.
Using the PlayStation Move and Navigation controller, Top Spin 4 promises great motion controlled tennis action — something we've been longing for ever since the Move's announcement. Unfortunately, it fails to build on the principles set by Sports Champions' table-tennis game. Instead of giving you full control of the placement and position of each shot, Top Spin 4 controls a little bit like the Nintendo Wii — using flicks of the controller to register pre-baked animations. The result is a game that feels unwieldy and unnecessarily clunky — you have very little attachment to the on-screen action. By using the navigation controller to move your player, you definitely don't feel restricted by your player's positioning choices, but it feels odd having to hold a separate controller in your non-racket hand. In our opinion, court positioning is less of an issue if you have full control over your shot placement. Which you don't.
It's unfortunate because when played with the DualShock 3, Top Spin 4 is very sturdy indeed. It's easy to see why 2K Czech opted for the PlayStation Move implementation they did — Top Spin 4's greatest hook is its animation, and clearly the developers wanted to show that off. Unfortunately, good Move controls require unbridled integration between the player and game interface, something Sports Champions' table-tennis game proves with its loose first-person perspective. By all accounts SEGA's Virtua Tennis 4 is taking the same approach.
So Top Spin 4 is a disappointment as a motion control game then, but is it any good as a tennis game? The answer is undeniably yes. Taking to the court as Roger Federer we were transported into the deft, varied game that's made the star such a champion over the past decade or so. On the other end of the base-line, Rafael Nadal worked tirelessly returning strong forehand shots at us rally-after-rally. True to real-life then? Well, the player-likenesses need a bit of work and Rafa doesn't do that thing with his underwear, but otherwise — yes. The animation really is sublime, adding a gritty weight to each and every shot. The crowd also react wonderfully to the atmosphere, building in anticipation as a rally gradually works towards its inevitable climax.
We're looking forward to Virtua Tennis 4 to see if it can build a full game on top of Sports Champions' wonderful motion control mechanics. Until then we'll get our on-court action from Top Spin 4 with a DualShock 3 in hand.