Review by Gruel
"I was told there would be an unlockable Beer Pong mode..."
Like most people, I was puzzled when I first heard that Rockstar's debut Xbox 360 game was going to be a ping pong game. All things considered though, Ping Pong has grown to have a solid following over the years, heck since 1988 it has been recognized as an official Olympic sport. It gets you to think why there hasn't been another ping pong video game since; even in the slightest mini-game form. With all that said, Rockstar knows how to make a good ping pong game with their $40 budget priced 360 title, Table Tennis (TT).
If you ever watch late night ESPN2, you might have seen how intense professional table tennis is. That is exactly the type of atmosphere Rockstar is shooting for here. There is a basic serve meter that is pretty easy to figure out how to set up soft and hard serves, but there is a lot of depth to the main TT game than you may think. There are four types of shots corresponding with each of the 360 face buttons (or direction on the right analog stick). There is your standard topspin shot, then a backspin shot which is helpful to slow the pace back down to get you back into a rally, and left and right sidespin shots. You can combine these to get a shot to curve off to the side. There is also a focus meter that gradually builds up during rallies, and to use a focus shot (allows you to power up a normal shot or to reach a shot that was just shy of your range) you just combine a face button with a press of the right bumper.
The developers implemented a technique in the controls I took for granted right away, and is something I hope all types of future tennis games will implement. If a shot is taking its time to go your way you can hold down your desired shot button and power it up, now if you happen to power it up too much the controller will vibrate indicating that your shot will most likely go out of bounds. This allows you a little window of time to readjust your shot in hopes to still get it to land in fair play. There is a training mode that helps explains the basics, but practice is key to mastering this engine. So the controls work really well overall, my only gripe is that I find myself occasionally screwing up my placement when I am trying to aim my shot.
Now I know there are probably some of you thinking that TT is probably just a lackluster afterthought from Rockstar and isn't really all that fun. I'll admit I was a little skeptical too when I first tried the game, but before I knew it I was immersed into the competition as I was with almost any other sports game. One more subtle effect that is worth noting is that once a rally is going at a dozen shots some background techno music kicks in and slowly gets louder as the rally gets longer. I had near 100 shot rallies that had me totally zoned into the game because that music somehow wrapped me into the action. Another plus to TT is that it can be enjoyed in quick spurts, almost any game can be completed in under 15 minutes and as short as 5 if you lower the set and point limit totals.
With TT being a budget title and all, don't expect that many extras. Offline there are only exhibition and tournament modes. There is no career mode, and frankly I couldn't care less. The main objectives would probably be to work your way up to gain sponsors and better ping pong paddles. Instead, Rockstar wisely implements a difficulty based tournament system. Its main purpose it serves is completing in order to unlock characters and uniforms. Speaking of characters, there aren't a whole lot of them. What we get are random ethnicities thrown in from China (by a character with the catchy name Liu Ping), Sweden, USA, and so fourth. I would have appreciated a create-a-character feature; even just a very basic one would've been nice. Rockstar - please keep that in mind for the inevitable sequel, along with Forrest Gump as a hidden character and an unlockable Beer Pong mode of play.
There is a pretty solid online component however, you can play in ranked and nonranked exhibition and tournament matches. I was also surprised to find a spectator mode that seems to borrow a bit from the Gotham TV element seen in Project Gotham Racing 3. All my matches I played ran smoothly online with no lag being apparent whatsoever.
Since there wasn't a lot to focus on, Rockstar did a remarkable job on the next-gen graphics for TT. Apparently, this is going to be the same graphics engine they are going to use for Grand Theft Auto IV. The obvious standout to me are the character models. They have a lot of detail, and nice little animations to them that I didn't expect - like seeing their shirts ripple as they move, and even sweat stains accumulating as a match progresses. The only thing that nagged at me is that I would have like to seen some more work done on the building environments, I barely noticed the crowd at all during gameplay. Aurally speaking, all you need to know is that the paddle and ping sound effects are spot on, as they are all that matter in this department.
Overall, Rockstar did a pretty good representation of ping pong. The gameplay has a lot of depth, it can be played in short bursts like most of the Live Arcade games currently available, and you can always have a match on your hand against a human opponent on Xbox Live. $40 is still a pretty high pricetag just for a simple game of ping pong, but if you have any interest in the sport than you will probably want to pick up Table Tennis.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/16/06
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