XBOX 360 REVIEW: TABLE TENNIS

For a game I was sure was an April Fool's gag, it sure plays well. by Colin Thames

June 8, 2006 - To tell you the truth, I was looking forward to playing Table Tennis for the 360 about as much as I look forward to a root canal. One of the first thoughts in my head was that this game would be, at best, an updated 21st century version of Pong. I wasn’t really far off the mark but it’s so updated that it could be perceived as even being better than actually playing table tennis in real life. This is due mainly to the fact that you will be able to play at a much higher level than you would in reality, at least for the casual player that might play the odd game of ping pong in his or her “rumpus” room.

Created by Rockstar games, Table Tennis, is just a damn fine ping pong game. There is no storyline, no hookers or pimps, no cars to highjack and there are no weapons with which to shoot the ball or your opponent with. So what are the surprises, you ask? After all, this is Rockstar we’re talking about. The biggest surprise is that there are no surprises. Table Tennis is as basic as a game gets. It’s budget priced, but it’s still a 360 game which makes it about the same price as a PS2 blockbuster. Don’t expect any career mode, any mini-games, any character customization or even team play. All you get is a Training, Exhibition and online Tournament mode. There are three difficulty settings: easy; medium and hard. On easy, the game is more forgiving and this is where everyone should start, after the Training mode that is.

The Training mode won’t take up too much of your time. There really isn’t much to learn, it’s putting these skills into practice that can take you a long time. You’ll learn how to aim, serve, return, spin and counter your opponent’s spins. The right stick is used to aim the ball and you can use the left stick to put different spins on the ball. There are four spins that you can use: top; bottom; right, and left. The spins impart what amounts to potential energy that is released when returned by your opponent. Depending on what kind of spin you put on the ball it will end up going in a different direction than where your opponent intends it to go. There are moves that you can use to counteract these spins if you suspect your opponent has added one. The analog stick works well for adding the spins but you can also use the face buttons if they feel more comfortable.

Ultimately the controls are excellent. You won’t be cursing them. They are very responsive and intuitive. Even on the highest difficulty setting they still feel solid but let me tell you, I need a few more days practice before I can do this difficulty setting justice. Even at the easiest setting I can see that there is lots of room for improvement. What makes the gameplay so addicting is that your skill development is all up to your style of play and the time you put into it. There are no power-ups, no equipment upgrades and no unlockable pros that will kick everyone’s ass. You can’t even create your own character. There are about 10 characters to choose from, each with different skills. There are four skill categories which include accuracy, power, spin and serve. These skills can be enhanced as you progress.

The only thing that you’ll unlock are some new outfits for your character. This lack of extras is actually refreshing. I applaud Rockstar for just sticking to the basics. This is a game of ping pong and that’s exactly what it is. You can play it for a few hours as a rental or get right into it and challenge other gamers in the eight-player Timed Tournament mode. In this online mode, up to eight players take part in a round-robin style tournament in which all players progress but they are entered into classes with players of similar skill levels. The game translates well to online play. It’s just as smooth and responsive as the offline modes.

There are some graphics and animations that could only be processed by the 360, but overall it’s not an impressive looking game. The arenas are rather dull and lifeless. It’s the facial renderings, expressions and body movements that are astounding. You might notice that the body is a little slow to react to your control. The hand is quick, as long as you’re in the right position. You have to anticipate your opponent’s shot and try to get in the perfect spot before the ball enters your court. If you’re not proactive you’re going to lose a lot of games. After a few hours you should be getting into some incredibly long rallies. Don’t be surprised if you return more than 50 shots. This is something that would be incredibly rare in real life but yet feels totally natural in this virtual game. The camera is so well behaved you won’t even notice it, but since it’s my job to notice, I’ve made a note of it and must give credit where credit is due. I wouldn’t expect any less from Rockstar.

The music and crowds are dynamic. They become louder and more aggressive as the match intensifies. The crowd may sound a little silly cheering for a ping pong game but once you get into it you also wouldn’t expect any less when you’re out there strutting your stuff.

There’s no reason not to check this game out, if even for an evening. It’s fun and there is a lot of nuances to the controls which will ensure that few players will master it in a weekend. It’s a very realistic portrayal of a sport. If you’re a Virtua Tennis fan you simply owe it to yourself to play ball with Table Tennis.

Features:

  • Ultimate Sport Simulation: Recreates the tension of professional table tennis across 19 environments.
  • Become World Champion: Play through the challenging tournament mode or battle head to head on Xbox Live.
  • Stunning Next Gen Game-Play: Lifelike character models and animation, advanced lighting and hyper-realistic physics.
  • Playable on the Xbox Live Online System.

By Colin Thames
CCC Freelance Writer

Rating out of 5
Table Tennis (Xbox 360)
4.0
Graphics
The players look great and animate well but there could have been a lot more detail to the arenas.
4.5
Control
The controls are easy to learn but making them work for you will require some practice.
4.0
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The crowds and the music are dynamic, coming alive during intense action but there is an awful lot of dead air with nothing but the hollow sound of the paddle whacking the ball.
4.1
Play Value
With an online, eight-player tournament, you will plenty of opportunities to enhance your skills.
4.2
Overall Rating - Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
 
System: X360
Dev: Rockstar San Diego
Pub: Rockstar
Release: May 2006
Players: 1 - 8
Review by Colin

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best