Table Tennis (Xbox360)

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When Rockstar announced that they were going to create a Table Tennis game, everyone was quite surprised. At least, I was, since here is a company renowned for violent stuff like Grand Theft Auto and Postal making a sports game that’s quite tame really. But, they chose a sport that’s quite simple, nailed it as best they could, and relied on their very high reputation to sell it, and so we have Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis, the best Table Tennis game you’ve ever played. If I’m going to compare to other Table Tennis games that I’ve played, I’m restricted to Pong though, so maybe it should simply be judged on its own merits.

Table Tennis Screenshot 1

Well modeled controls

The merits are plentiful in this game – Rockstar have done a good job in most respects and have created a sports game that does the best it can to mimic the real thing. The serves, rallies, smashes, and even table-edge bounces are almost perfectly modeled in the game, so when you watch the replay you almost feel like you’re watching a filmed game. The hitting controls are tight – use any one of the four buttons to hit the ball with different types of spin, and use the analog stick to angle the shot and place it on the table. The earlier you hit the button, the longer your shot charges for and the harder it hits. The longer you hold the stick in a direction, the sharper the angle, and a bit of sharp vibration warns you when your ball’s going to go off the table. After some play you’ll charge your “focus,” which you can then use to hit especially hard shots or spin the ball more dramatically by holding the right bumper before hitting the ball. You can also hit a soft shot by holding the left bumper, useful for when your opponent has moved away from the table. Pretty much everything you can do in the real game is modeled in the controls, and well modeled.

The controls are not perfect though, at least in my estimation. Your character seems to move in a very labouring fashion for one thing. It’s not really the speed of movement that bothers me, but rather that you only seem to be able to move in specified distances at a time, which means it’s difficult to move around a ball to go on to your forehand, or to position yourself accurately before your opponent serves. This means moving is all about small little tweaks to get somewhere near the ball before you press a button to perform the last movement automatically. The feel of movement just never sat right with me – I’m someone who enjoys “tank controls” in many games as they offer a sense of realism (as opposed to the float over the ground flailing your legs around and ignoring things like inertia school of control) – but if in real life I am able to make small shuffles to position myself when playing the game of table tennis, so should Jesper or Lui Ping. The controls do reward a large amount of play as you find your accuracy improving greatly, and the method of positioning the ball in your opponents half of the table is excellent, so there is a lot to recommend in this department. Another word about controls – it is advisable to turn the “Event Camera” off, as it distracts one from the game play. With this on, at certain points the camera will show a close up of the ball in slow motion for dramatic effect, but when the mechanics are all about timing, this has the unfortunate effect of throwing one off.

Table Tennis Screenshot 2

Characters and different modes

Each of the characters in the game has set skill levels in four different attributes – power, serve, spin and accuracy. I enjoyed playing with the high spin players more, but I found that the game mechanics seemed to favour certain attributes. It may just be my play style that made it seem like this, but when I played, high power players were simply far stronger than any other type, meaning the men were much harder to beat than the women, and power players like Jesper were very tough, even though their accuracy is supposedly low.

It’s a good thing that there is quite a bit to recommend in the core table tennis mechanics, since the rest of the game is notably sparse. There is a small training mode that teaches you the very basics of play, and after that it’s to the tournaments for you. There are four of them, ranging from easy to very hard. The difficulty ramps quickly, and you may find yourself struggling a lot in the medium difficulty tournament. Even the easy tournament is not really easy enough to welcome all people – someone without good experience with these modern controllers will struggle to win a game. The target audience must be experienced gamers, and for those there is plenty of challenge to go around, as the hard and very hard tournaments really do live up to their names – both of these will take plenty of dedication and practice to get through. Fortunately, although the tournaments are based on a knockout format, you are allowed to replay a game as many times as it takes to win.

Table Tennis BoxshotIt is perhaps a good thing that the tournaments are difficult, as once you are finished with them there is nothing left to challenge you, except two player local play and online play. I would have welcomed a career mode of some sort where you develop your own character and build up their skill attributes as you make your way to the world championships, instead of just trying to unlock various t-shirt colours of the few (but well modeled) characters in the game. Two player local play is a lot of fun provided you are on similar levels of skill (like any sport I suppose), while online offers tournament play as well.

Table Tennis is essentially a bare bones table tennis game that focuses only on the core table tennis game play. This is a fantastic shell for a game, but a greater variety of options would have given the game far more longevity. It is a great pick-up-and-play game for two people looking to challenge each other, although I would argue that the mechanics reward the dedicated gamer far more. The game feels like it’s in the no-mans-land between arcade gaming and serious sports gaming, while not excelling at either of those as much as it could have.