• Table Tennis Review - Xbox 360

    It had to be Rockstar. Not content with creating the leading franchise of the PS2 generation. Not content with corrupting entire continents with media-perceived filth and just plain, utter evilness. Not even content with building sand castles in the gaming landscape, they just had to go and take on the sporting world.

    Not any old sport either, they had to pick one which the majority of us last experienced at our local youth clubs many moons ago. A sport which gets a few scant minutes of coverage every Olympic year if that. A sport which was the very first one ever covered in the gaming world, with a legacy that means developers seem to stay away from covering that sport again so rarely does it grace our presence.

    Not content with all of the above, they also decided to rip up the current rule book for what content should be in a sports game. Licensed players, putting your own image, or as near as humanly possible, into the game world, career modes stretching for virtual years and every real world competition being available for the gamer to test his or her mettle in, all of these are now the norm for any sports title worth its salt. Rockstar have thought ďbollocks to thatĒ and given us a selection of created players with which to battle each other. Why spend money on licensed players when you can create your own, each with individual traits which mean that any gamer should find one which matches their skill set and playing style.

    Rockstar have given us Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis, a stripped-down, unlicensed, 21st-century adaptation of Pong, and one of the most fun-packed, intense, sport titles of recent years.

    For those of you lucky enough not to have endured a local youth club, the sport of table tennis may need explaining. Take one tennis ball, swap it for a small hard plastic ball which is no bigger than 40mm in diameter, then take your tennis court and transform it into table 9 feet long by 5 feet wide. Slap a net across the middle, change your racket for a bat and away you go. Rather than play to tennis score lines, you play the first to eleven (or the first past eleven by two clear points), and you each take turns serving during games, two serves at a time.

    Even though table tennis games have been few and far between, its bigger cousin has been transferred to the video-gaming world many times, with control systems evolving into what we have today. You can pick up the majority of tennis games and immediately feel comfortable with the control system; it will match what has been before, with the same general button layout performing the same shots. Table Tennis keeps this idea going, but rather than each button performing a different tennis shot they instead apply different directional spins to the ball. You have a choice of left or right, top or backspin, with the resulting shot spinning in the direction you choose. Each of the four coloured pad buttons activates a different spin, along with colour-matched motion trail. These coloured trails rotate around the ball whilst it is in flight, so that your opponent can see which spin you have put on the ball and vice versa. Itís that simple, and with a very quick and easy tutorial to play through you will soon get to grips with it. Mastery of the game comes in knowing which spin to use to counter your opponents, and forcing your opponent into either making a mistake and missing the table with their return shot, or working an opening so that a return is not possible.

    Itís here that the game comes into its own. Forcing that mistake, or making that opening can take some time, and rallies (return of shots) can quickly go into double and even treble figures. At times this can be little more than an high speed rendition of Simon Says, with each player matching the other player's shot, countering the spin colour with the matching colour of their own shot. The in-game tutorial states that counter-spin is added to the ball when you match spin with the same type of spin, so if the ball has yellow motion lines orbiting it signifying that it had back-spin added, then you should return the shot with back-spin added. However, instead of countering the spin on the ball, you could add opposite spin to it, pushing for your opponent to make that one mistake you need to win the point but at the risk of doing so yourself.

    Controlling your player is via the left analogue stick, which is also the stick you use to place your shots. Pressing any shot button prepares your player to return, and you cannot move whilst in this mode. When placing your shots the pad's rumble feature is used to let you know when a shot is going out of bounds, a low rumble meaning that you might just clip the edge of the table, a heavy rumble meaning that you are wildly missing. Itís a unique feature, which enhances the game play immensely.

    The game is played in a number of arenas, each one being somewhat bare, with only the table and a couple of advertising hoardings being on display. Each player is modelled beautifully, right down to the sweat patches which slowly cover their T-shirts after long rallies. There are a number of nice touches such as sweaty finger marks showing on the surfaces of the bats during games, or subtle reflections of the players on the table. Close-up shots of players missing the ball, the ball slowly spinning into the net... it all adds up to what is a sparse and yet enriching visual treat.

    The nice touches donít just end with the visuals. The sound of a ping-pong ball bouncing on a hard plastic table is replicated perfectly, and in full surround sound no less. Smash a ball out of the immediate playing area and you can hear it slowly bouncing to a stop to the left or right of you. Taunts from your opponent, cries from the gallery, even mobile phones ringing (which brings a look of disgust in that direction from your opponent) all add to the ambiance. An in-game soundtrack kicks in once a rally gets to fifteen shots, raising the tempo of an already breakneckingly quick game.

    It would be wrong to say thatTable Tennis does not cater to the single player, but the options available are limited to the extreme. Three different tournaments and exhibition matches are all that is on offer, with completion of these tournaments unlocking new characters to play with. The AI puts up a reasonable game, and you will probably find one nemesis in the character list whose playing style conflicts with your own. With any sports title though, the most satisfaction is in playing and defeating human opponents and Rockstar have excelled on the options here. Offline you can play exhibition matches, using the same method as conventional tennis games. A new addition is that the player serving is always at the bottom of the screen, so every two points you always play in, what is for many, the preferred view. Online you can play in single exhibition matches, four- or eight-player tournaments, and if you choose these can be just for fun or ranked. Rockstar have also copied the Gotham TV concept from PGR3, in that you can watch any online game taking place whenever you want to (as long as the host has enabled viewers).

    With most sport titles you can normally pick up things which could be improved in a sequel; it's praise indeed that there is nothing that this reviewer can think of which would improve Table Tennis in any way. It captures the speed and excitement of top-class table tennis, while making it fun for the gamer to play. Every point you lose is due to your own inadequacies, and you will often find yourself grinning away like a loon even when you lose rallies. Itís the perfect zone game, with matches ebbing and flowing as you or your opponent get Ďin the zoneí, and the more you play the better you will become. Rockstar Games presents Table Tennisis a perfect example of how a sport should be digitally replicated.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Leon Retro's Avatar
      Leon Retro -
      I remember this being quite a big thing back in the day, which was strange seeing it's a Table Tennis game. But word got around that's it's really good, so lots of people gave it a chance and ended up really liking it. It was certainly a nice surprise for me. What an addictive game.
    1. wakka's Avatar
      wakka -
      This game was great fun. It was a very early title for the 360 but released at a budget price, which got a lot of people to give it a try. Think it was only £25 or so when everything else was £50.