topspin

TopSpin 2K25 Hands-On Preview – The Master From The Past-er

Tough Love

I must confess here at the top that I’ve really never been a tennis fan.

I’ve long been a casual tennis video game fan, though. 

Not one who lines up to buy such games on launch day or anything, not unless you count the console-bundled Wii Sports anyway. There’s just something about the rhythms and the slow build of tension of the back and forth at their core that my brain finds deeply satisfying. Heck, I’d wager that this basely-satisfying loop is why Pong holds up so well even after 50 years.

Considering the foundational satisfaction that tennis tends to deliver when translated to the video game medium along with the enduring popularity of the sport, I find it a little bizarre how relatively few tennis games we’ve had over the past couple of console generations. Or at least how few there have been not starring Mario anyway.

topspin

When TopSpin 2K25 was announced back in January I thought ‘wow, there’s a name I haven’t heard in a while’, and was genuinely shocked that the last entry in the series came all the way back in 2011.

2K Australia kindly invited me up to their offices recently for a couple of hours of hands-on time with a preview build of the series’ new entry. What I experienced hasn’t quite day-one sold me yet, but it has definitely piqued my interest.

TopSpin 2K25 pitches itself first and foremost as a tennis simulator. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean that the core action of volleying the ball back and forth has a lot of moment-to-moment complexity going on, and is a lot less smoothly rhythmic than casual tennis game fans might expect because of it. 

topspin

2K25 does feature a really excellent series of tutorials narrated by John McEnroe to ease you in, but even after an hour of solid play I still found myself unable to really get used to the feel of it all. This doesn’t mean that I was having a bad time or anything, not at all, but I think that any person who struggles with rapid-fire decision making as I do will find there’s a steep learning curve to be had here for the very foundations of play.

The controller’s four face buttons are programmed to different types of swings, and landing a stroke well requires holding whichever you choose while a golf game-esque metre fills towards a sweet spot for release. You’re doing this on top of trying to aim where you want the ball to go, being mindful of your own positioning as well as your opponents, and I think also accommodating for your character’s growing fatigue.

RELATED:  The Most Exciting Game Releases In April 2024

If you’re reading this and saying to yourself, ‘yes, that certainly sounds like the game of tennis’, then well yeah, it does. It’s just also a lot to attune yourself to in order to stand a chance even against the normal difficulty AI. Again, my brain is wired such that I naturally struggle with this kind of thing, but I also have no doubt that given enough time I could get it down to a decently capable reflexive muscle memory. I do think the degree to which TopSpin’s simulation mechanics inherently push against a rhythmic feel of play will be a turn-off for more casual players though, and to be honest I’m right on the fence there myself.  

Everything I experienced with TopSpin 2K25 looked and sounded good, at least to the standard of expectations from such a title. As a Melbourne local it tickled me to be able to play at Rod Laver Arena, a venue at which I’ve never seen a tennis game played but have gleefully caused permanent damage to my hearing watching many music acts. 

I really appreciate that match-ups aren’t gender-locked, a feature which is disappointingly uncommon in sports games. Playing as 80’s-era McEnroe against Serena Williams and having her absolutely hand John his ass was a joy even though it meant I was losing. The option to play as 80’s McEnroe does raise the question of why the dedicated taunt buttons and ability to throw objects wasn’t borrowed from WWE 2K24 in the name of true authenticity, but we’ll let it slide. 

Sadly the preview build didn’t feature the career mode or the character creation suite, but it did allow us to have a four-player doubles match side by side on the couch which was so absolutely delightful that it made me melancholic for my youth. 

topspin

As we packed up and left for the day my lingering feeling was that TopSpin 2K25 is shaping up to be absolutely excellent at what it sets out to do, I’m just not certain that it’s for me. The fact that I’m extremely keen to play more of it even with that firmly in mind says something though, and I think given enough time and patience it could yet win me over. 

Plus who knows, they could still end up announcing Cena for it. That would probably be enough to convince me.

TopSpin 2K25 Deluxe and Grand Slam editions are set to launch on April 23rd whilst the standard edition will launch on April 26th, and will be available on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon for $99 PS5/Xbox Series X and $79 PS4.