Table Tennis

Review

posted 6/12/2006 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel

When I first got Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis my friends made fun of me, they told me that I was crazy to be excited about something as simple as a game of ping pong.  They trotted out the usual Pong jokes, telling me that I should play a real man's game, like football or basketball or something.  But I wasn't going to let these naysayers ruin what promised to be a great game of table tennis.

It's easy to be skeptical about a game like Table Tennis, the idea seems so simple that it almost doesn't seem worth exploring.  Not to mention that it's not too hard to play this game in real life, even if you aren't very good at it.  But Rockstar's Table Tennis proves to not only be a great playing sports simulator but a very necessary one as well.

Without a doubt Table Tennis is Rockstar Games' most focused project.  For a company known for their open-ended cities and crazy mini-games, Rockstar Games seems out of place publishing a game this simple, this non-controversial.  But make no mistake about it, Rockstar's Table Tennis is every bit as exciting as the company's other titles … in some ways it may even be a little bit better.

Rockstar's Table Tennis doesn't bite off more than it can chew; it's nothing more than a great playing game of table tennis.  Don't expect any frills or gimmicks here; this is a very straight port of a very simple game.  Actually, it's not just frills and gimmicks you shouldn't expect, it's just about everything else you have become familiar with in modern day sports simulators.  Don't look for a story or career mode and you can pretty much forget about designing your own character.  Rockstar's Table Tennis allows you to play online and off and that's about it.

It's when you start to play Rockstar's Table Tennis that you realize where all of their time and energy went.  This is the type of game you can easily pick up and have a good time with, having a few heated battles against an easy computer opponent.  But don't be fooled by the simple controls, there's a surprising amount of depth to be found here.

The game of Table Tennis features four different hits, one per button on the Xbox 360 control.  You have your traditional topspin button, a backspin button, and two buttons that turn the ball in different directions (right spin and a left spin).  Along with choosing the direction you are going to hit the ball, you are also able to give the hit more power and find the location you want the ball to land.  Learning how to do all of this at once is essential if you want to win one of the game's four tournaments.

There are eleven different characters to choose from in Rockstar's Table Tennis, although only a few of them are available at the start of the game.  Win enough tournaments (or play enough exhibition games) and you'll eventually meet a diverse group of Table Tennis champions.  Each of the characters represents a different country, everything from the USA to China to Brazil and even Egypt.  Each of the Table Tennis champs has a unique stance and serve, they even hold their paddles differently.

The characters in Rockstar's Table Tennis do more than just look different; they actually have different strengths and weaknesses.  Much like a fighting game, the characters in Table Tennis have their own unique way of playing the game, each person feels different from the last.  Some are faster than others, others are stronger, some get tired quickly, and there are a few that are just no good at serving.  You will have to play every character if you want to learn who is right for you.

Strangely enough that's not the only similarity this game shares with your average fighting game.  Games are played with three rounds, or whoever manages to get two wins first.  Players take turn serving the ball and the first person to 11 wins.  Outside of that there isn't much more you will need to know about the grand sport of Table Tennis, which is good because when that rally gets going it rarely slows down.

Since the players are only feet away from each other the game's speed has a tendency of ramping up rather quickly.  You may start with a few soft hits, but it won't take long before both of you are trying to out-smash the other person.  If the game's stats are to be believed these balls can go well over sixty miles per hour.  With the ball traveling that fast all it takes is one stupid mistake and the point goes to your opponent.  Rockstar's Table Tennis is the type of game that gets real exciting real quick.  Although it's easy to compare this game to all of the tennis simulators out there, the game's speed and intensity really sets Table Tennis apart.



The presentation in this game is first class from beginning to end, the game looks as good as it plays.  The venues are never as large as what you find a basketball or football game; instead they are small cozy locations with poor lighting.  From time you time you will get an audience, but there are just as many levels where it's just you and another person in an abandoned gym.  There are 19 different venues in all, including a few that are real easy on the eyes.  It's interesting to see the difference in the table tennis table; some are fancy while others appear to be run down.  But no matter how good the backgrounds look, chances are you'll be too busy trying to keep track of the ball to actually pay attention to the surroundings.

The characters themselves look amazing, especially when the camera gets up close and you see their emotions (and virtual skin).  You can really see how tired the characters are as the match goes on, they start breathing a little harder and their clothes start soaking up the sweat.  The clothing itself is independent from the player's body, which means that it has a tendency of moving all around and bunching up.  With its realistic animation and characters, Table Tennis definitely looks and feels like a next generation game.  It may just be table tennis, but it's the best damn looking game of table tennis you've ever seen.

The game's sounds aren't too shabby, either.  Instead of constantly blasting music, Rockstar's Table Tennis takes a minimalist approach to the audio.  As you start your rally all you will hear is the audience and the ball hitting the table (and paddles).  Then, as your rally increases, the music gets louder and louder until it's right there intensifying the already exciting action.  Miss the ball and you're right back to a game without any music.

But the real star of Rockstar's Table Tennis is not the music; it's the audience that gathered to watch your match.  The people in the audience really seem to be paying attention, as they often say things that actually make sense to what is going on in front of them.  It's fun to hear their different cheers (and taunts), and the audience reacts differently depending on what venue you are playing.  Obviously sports games have been featuring audiences for years, but with all of the action taking place in closed quarters they come across as being very realistic, they are very authentic.

Actually, that's one word I would use to describe all of Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis.  The way the graphics, sound and game play comes together this game feels very authentic.  It doesn't try to be more than it is, it's just a great playing game of table tennis.  This is a loving tribute to a sport that gets very little coverage.

The fact that this game is so much fun to play is for the best, because there's nothing else for you to do in this game.  After you've played a few exhibition games and won the four tournaments it's really just you against your friends.  The multiplayer modes is where the fun really starts, there is nothing like playing your friends or taking your action to the world online.  It's easy to set up the type of game you want and get a friend in there, and once you get hooked you will want to play everybody … all of the time.

Rockstar does such a good job with the table tennis aspect of the game that you almost with there was more.  But with its $40 price tag it is easy to forgive Rockstar's Table Tennis; it manages to do everything it set out to do and nothing more.  Sure it would be nice to be able to create your own character or play with four players, but the moment you start playing it you forget about those minor elements.

Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis may seem like an unlikely sports game, but it ends up being one of the best playing games of the year.  This may just be the best sports game currently available for the Xbox 360, a must-own for everybody that likes a good two-player game.  Oh, and as for my friends that made fun of me for being excited about a game of table tennis, they're all addicted to it just like me.






B
Rockstar Games comes through with one of the best playing sports games of the year. It may seem unconventional, but Rockstar's Table Tennis is easily one of the most fun two-player games since the original Street Fighter II!