Review by dougmoto

Reviewed: 08/17/06

"The depressing thing about tennis is that no matter how much you play, you'll never be as good as a wall"

-Mitch Hedburg

Some may say that Ping Pong is not a sport. I must disagree strongly with that. We have a table tennis unit in Gym, and one of my pals is 2nd or 3rd ranked in Ontario for his age. Rest assured, it’s no walk in the park facing him, and by the end, your forearm is sore, and you’re sweating up a river. Table Tennis is a game that requires lightning-fast reflexes, good muscular endurance, and perseverance and passion that most professional athletes these days lack. That being said, Rockstar still took a very big risk in making this game. While being fierce and interesting, table tennis is still not that big in America. However, it IS growing in popularity. Turn on the TV, and you may catch a bit of a match. Hopefully this game can help bring ping pong some well deserved media attention.

At first, I was a bit skeptical. How could they possibly recreate the table tennis experience? Ping pong is much different than the easy-to-simulate regular tennis. You’re not satisfied with just a normal back and forth rally, you need excitement. One of the most exciting things in real table tennis is the ridiculous amount of spin the professionals put on the ball. Trying to recreate that spin against an opponent is great fun. Thankfully Rockstar understood that as well, and spin is one of the most important parts of this game. Smashing the ball repeatedly at your opponent probably won’t faze them, unless they have terrible reflexes. You’re going to have to implement a bit of spin if you want to win.

The action is so blindingly fast, you’re going to have to learn to anticipate a little bit. If you want to learn how to counter spin, well you’re going to need a lot of practice to see those colors whizzing at you. But I think this is good for the game. Most people think that Table Tennis is slow, because they’ve never played a good game. Rockstar shows the faster side of table tennis by having the speed at a more professional level, rather than amateur.

Alas, Rockstar table tennis has the same problem as so many other tennis games: the gameplay gets stale after about an hour. Sure it’s fast and it’s fairly frenzied, but when you can return almost everything they serve at you… it just gets kind of boring. Thankfully that doesn’t happen for a while, since the computer difficulty spikes very early. You’ll coast through the first tournament, but have a very difficult time on the second one, for sure. In fact, there are plenty of tournaments and objectives thrown in to keep you busy for a while. After you beat the beginner tourney, you can go on to rookie and progress from there.

The goals provided by the 360 system are a very well thought-out and wise addition to the console. They push you to try to beat the game on the hardest difficulty, to squeeze out those last precious gamer points. Perhaps this innovative creation has saved games like Table Tennis from becoming mind-numbing, by providing challenges to keep your mind off the eventual stale gameplay. Not really boring, per se, but quite tedious, a problem common in sports games. In any case, you’ll actually want to get through the tournaments, either for the reward of new outfits and arenas, or to try and amass some points for your ever-important gamer score. Probably the latter. The arenas and clothes add a bit of interest, and spice things up a little, but will you brag about that to your friends? Probably not.

Thankfully, the game offers a nice presentation, graphically. I can honestly say that this is the best looking table tennis game I’ve ever seen! Alright, seriously though, the graphics are sharp, and the textures look fantastic. They’ve gone into so much detail on the character models, it’s unbelievable. I noticed that after an intense rally, my player had sweat pouring down his shirt, and I was quite impressed. Such detail and attention is rarely illustrated in video games, much less so in sport games. My only complaint about the character models is that they could have possibly put a little more detail into the facial expressions. The characters look so serious all the time, furrowed brows… eyes transfixed intently at the ball…

Perhaps they’re simply trying to determine what kind of spin the ball has, another difficult thing to do in this game. Sure, side spin is easy to detect. Red and blue come off crystal clear. But top spin and backs spin seem to merge into one yellowy-greenish color, and it’s more than difficult to decipher which spin is coming at you, and it’s quite impossible to return with the proper counter. Maybe after years of practice and superhuman eyesight, you too can furrow your brow and return like a master. But I just don’t have the time for that, I have things to do, places to see, music to hear.

Speaking of music, there seems to be a gaping void where the music should be. Okay, it’s not that bad, but when you start to play, you’ll notice a dreadful silence fall upon you. As the rally starts to get going however, the music starts pumping. It gets more and more intense with each strike, it just makes you want to hit just one more return until… it sends you back into the void. An interesting way to bring intensity to the table, and it seems to work. I was yearning for the music, I NEEDED to hear the music. It became my sanctuary, in an otherwise stale match.

Oh of course there are other sounds. Blip. Boop. Blip. Boop. After a while, one gets tired of hearing hollow plastic hitting a rubber paddle. It just doesn’t offer the excitement of other action or FPS games. I think they should have added those tennis war cries you hear on television. That would have definitely spiced things up a little bit. Of course, that would probably be considered blasphemous by real table tennis fans, but a man can dream.

I guess I’ll be dreaming for a while though. Rockstar’s first offering of table tennis has some interesting features, and good ideas. While not perfect, this lays down some foundation for possible future table tennis games to come, and that’s all part of learning. I’m actually kind of glad Rockstar made this game, many people see them and immediately relate to Grand Theft Auto. There were countless carjacking table tennis jokes, but in the end, Rockstar has proved that they can make a solid game, no matter what the concept.

Pros:

+Intense action
+Lots of Unlockables
+2 player action

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Cons:

-Gameplay starts to get tedious
-Sound effects are mediocre
-Not much variety

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Overall:7

-Dougmoto(wheres the car-jacking?)

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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