Table Tennis Review (Xbox 360)
Any discussion about developer Rockstar Games is usually based on its widely acclaimed Grand Theft Auto series, which is arguably the most successful franchise in gaming today. When word dropped this year that Rockstar was planning a foray into the world of sports gaming, rumors ran rampant as to which sport it might be.
Then came the official press release..."Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis."
Ok, so it’s not the football or baseball title we were hoping for, but it’s something refreshing. Being stuck in a day and age where the sports genre is dominated by annual releases with minor upgrades, it’s about time someone took a gamble. Was the gamble well worth it? Let’s find out.
Rockstar’s Table Tennis features some of the best graphics to date for any sports title on the Xbox 360. Flowing clothing, smooth animations, and lifelike character models provide the gamer with a realistic representation of the sport. You’ll even notice the accumulation of sweat on the players as a match progresses. It's small and subtle, but definitely a nice touch. The venues benefit from the use of some outstanding lighting effects. The crowd sits in the dark, while the table is placed center stage, adding to an already intense atmosphere.
Without commentary, the audio consists of the paddle hitting the ball, and a raucous crowd that shows emotion as the action heats up. Sure, it’s not much, but it allows you to sit back and listen to the sounds of the game. With the ball flying back and forth at a hectic pace, it’d be a nightmare listening to a commentator trying to keep up. Besides, let’s face it, if a game’s commentary is monotonous or choppy, it really detracts from the overall experience. Table Tennis also supports Dolby Digital surround sound, and some easy to navigate menus.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Table Tennis is the lack of gameplay features. Exhibition matches and tournaments are there for both offline and online play, but the game is sorely lacking a career mode, which should be a standard option these days for any sports title. The tournament mode pits you against various different characters and as you advance through each level of difficulty, you’ll unlock new venues, characters, and outfits. It hardly adds to the replay value, but it’s better than nothing, and the AI is rather tough on the higher levels of difficulty. You’ll also notice that a create-a-player feature is also missing from Table Tennis, which means you’re resigned to picking one of the readily available characters.
Moving on to the actual gameplay, Rockstar's Table Tennis appeals to all crowds. The controls are simple to learn for a gaming novice, yet still provide a challenge for true gamers to master. Obviously, the main objective in Table Tennis is to hit the ball, making sure that it lands on your opponent’s side of the table. Luckily, the superb ball physics make this not only an easy task, but a realistic one as well. Each face button will execute a animation to return the ball to your opponent. However, depending on which face button you press, there are several types of spin you can apply. Sound confusing? It’s not. Press the A button for a backspin return, the B button for rightspin, the Y button for topsin, and the X button for leftspin. You can even combine two face buttons together, such as the B and Y buttons, which will execute a topspin return with a little bit of a rightspin twist to it. Another effective shot is the drop shot. Combining the left shoulder button with any of the face buttons will execute a shot that barely makes it over the net, and on to your opponent’s side of the table.
To add some arcade flavor to Table Tennis, Rockstar implemented focus shots, which add extra spin to a shot. With each successful volley, you’ll notice a meter in the upper left corner filling up. This is your focus meter. To execute a focus shot, combine the right shoulder button with any of the face buttons. As your player prepares to hit the ball, the game will go into slow motion. This confirms that you’ve successfully executed the focus shot. Unfortunately, the game relies too much on focused shots, and not enough on anticipating your opponent’s next move.
For those that are more comfortable using the right joystick, you can substitute it for the face buttons. Just press the joystick in the corresponding direction of the face buttons I listed above. I had some trouble with the joystick initially, but was looking for an added challenge, and mastering the joystick definitely provides it. Furthermore, regardless of which setup you decide to use, both are very responsive.
Online play via Xbox Live is where Table Tennis has legs. Ranked and unranked matches are available, as well as the option to create a quick tournament with friends. The action is fast and you’ll struggle to find a Xbox Live gaming experience more intense than trying to earn a single point with your volley count in the 70's. Lag was nonexistent in the matches I played, as the game played just as well as it does offline. Rockstar even included a spectator mode, which allows you to jump into a match between 2 other players, and watch the action unfold. It’s scary how good some people are out there.
With all of the good, in regards to Table Tennis online, there’s also some bad. There are occasions during a match where the opposing player becomes stuck in a animation, and despite being nowhere near the ball, the ball will still be returned. After seeing it a couple times, you become accustomed to it, but it still happens more than it should. Just remember to keep playing until that point is awarded, otherwise you’ll find this problem more annoying than it really is.
If Rockstar intended to develop an addictive title for gamers of all ages, both male and female, then they’ve succeeded. For those looking for some single player fun, I’d suggest Table Tennis as a rental. You can breeze through everything it has to offer in less than a week, which is probably the game’s biggest downfall. However, if you’ve got some friends to enjoy it with, or plan on spending some extensive time on Xbox Live, then the $40 dollar price tag that accompanies Rockstar’s Table Tennis is a steal.