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Channeling Johnny Mac: Building a better tennis moustache is this easy 

Top Spin 4 takes Pong to the personalizable extreme.

click to enlarge game-on-top_spin_4.jpg

I don't need no motion-sensitive, 3D TV to be me - a 6'2" redneck tennis star, complete with handlebar moustache, scruffy mullet, a stringy set of muscles and some serious fans.

I decided to get the plain old ordinary Xbox 360 version of Top Spin 4 so that I could see what kind of game it was without any of those half-baked bells and whistles. Yeah, the PlayStation 3 Move's version of "Table Tennis" was outstanding. And Kinect Sports kept me occupied for a while. But I wanted to play Top Spin 4 the old fashioned way - with a controller in my hands and my butt in a chair. Plus the game store was out of the PS3 version anyway.

What's up with all these eggheads saying that the good old videogame controller is dead? They claim it's too complicated. It's outdated. Yeah, maybe if I wanted to play Romper Room Motion Controlled Memory Math Sing-Along! I guess the ordinary controller is too sophisticated for that. But for good old tennis it works just fine.

Give me a couple of thumbsticks, a pair of triggers and a bunch of buttons, and I'll show you how I can move my all-American ass around the court. I can haul myself from one corner to another without getting so much as winded. Other players might prefer to perfect their powerful serves or volley skills. I'll keep my stats strong in stamina and speed.

With enough character building (and some quiet help from a coach or two) I can give myself the agility I need to impress my fans all around the world. Because whether I'm playing in a Northern European modernist sports complex, or an outdoor clay court in Senegal, there's always a good-looking crowd around. (Not that I'm racist, but it's reassuring to see so many white people at all these foreign matches.)

And thanks to the classic controller, I can target any angle of the court with controlled shots and make those other players work up a sweat while they run all over the place. I'll just stay here on my end of the court, looking awesome in my Sgt. Pepper pants and tank top, sending the balls wherever I want. Who knew that little old me could pong a pixel so many ways?

THE GOOD: Of all the current iterations of Pong that I played this year for my "Pong-Off!" competition, none is more nuanced and intuitive than Top Spin 4. The additions of motion-sensitivity (for the PlayStation Move) and 3D TV compatibility may give players more to goof around with, but the basic game is an example of tight and compelling classic gaming in an age of sloppy novelty.

THE BAD: Instead of a geeky role-playing system like D&D, or an automatic role-playing system like Oblivion, Top Spin 4 offers players vague, general concepts for building a personal avatar. Instead of fine-tuning and micromanaging, players are held at arm's length from their characters, guiding them along basic principles instead of building them from scratch.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Top Spin 4 takes Pong to the personalizable extreme.

Top Spin 4

Rated Everyone; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360



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