Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis. No, that’s not a joke. The creators of such controversial properties as Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt and the upcoming schoolyard beat ‘em up, Bully, have chosen to serve up a game of Ping Pong in their inaugural Xbox 360 offering. It’s an odd couple to say the least but damnit if it isn’t a whole lot of fun. So grab a paddle and get ready to return service as we check out Rockstar’s Table Tennis.
The best part of Rockstar’s Table Tennis is how accessible the game is. Anybody can pick up a controller and start playing, regardless of skill level. The left stick is used to move your character around the table while each of the face buttons represent a return shot; topspin, backspin, left and right sidespin. The longer you hold a button, the more spin you’ll put on the ball. The left stick is also used to aim your shot when you’re in the action of returning. That’s basically all you need to know to jump right in and play.
Much like the sport itself, mastering Rockstar’s Table Tennis will take some practice. That’s where the Training Mode comes in handy. Here you’ll learn the basics of serving, spins and ball placement. The Training Mode will also teach you how to perform soft shots, smashes and counterspins, as well as introduce you to Focus shots. As you successfully return shots and win points, your Focus Meter will fill up. You can use a portion of your Focus Meter at any time to execute a Focus Shot, a high-powered shot that can help you counter difficult shots or make winning shots. When your Focus Meter fills up entirely, you can activate Full Focus, which for a short period of time increases your character’s overall performance.
In terms of gameplay, Rockstar’s Table Tennis is one of the best representations of any sport out there. The only real complaint I have in that regard is that on occasion, when you hit a shot, the game will transition into slow motion as your opponent prepares to make their return; almost like a replay, only not. Thankfully this feature can be turned off in the options menu, and it really should be by default because it interferes with the flow of the game. For those concerned that long rallies might result in a button-mashed thumb, you can also make returns using the right stick, with each direction representing a spin. I actually prefer this method, it just feels better.
The singleplayer portion of the game is pretty shallow. Aside from the Training Mode, players can challenge an individual character to a match in Exhibition Mode or participate in one of four Tournament circuits of varying skill levels: amateur, rookie, pro and all-star. Playing through these modes will unlock new characters, venues and colourful gear. There are 11 characters in total, each representing a country and a style of play. For example, Jespter from Sweden is a power player, relying heavily on forehand topspins, while France’s Luc prefers a more defensive style of play, using backspins regularly. I can’t help but wonder why Canada isn’t represented in the roster. We have some strong table tennis players in this country, don’t we? No? Okay. Once you unlock all the goodies there’s little reason to continue playing solo, except to shore up your skills.
Multiplayer is where you’ll spend the bulk of your time playing Rockstar’s Table Tennis, whether it be online via Xbox Live or offline on the couch. Not only can you engage in a ranked or unranked exhibition match, you can also set up your own round robin tournament and customize it with regards to the number of players, games per match, points per game, and even whether or not you want to allow outside Live users to be able to spectate. The game also features leaderboards where you can compare your stats and ranking against other Table Tennis players on Xbox Live. Most of the matches I played were lag free. The only downside is the lack of a post-game lobby. Once you complete a match, both players are bounced back to the Xbox Live menu.
Visually, Rockstar’s Table Tennis is simple yet stunning. It’s the same philosophy as Fight Night Round 3 in that when the action takes place in a confined venue, you can really focus on the little details. As such, the player models look amazingly life-like and the animations are wonderful. Players celebrate along with you after long rallies and get upset when they miss easy shots. When both players achieve Full Focus, the advanced lighting effects take centre stage and help heighten the experience. The accompanying audio is authentic, from the sound the ball makes when it strikes the paddle to the crowd noise that rises and falls with each rally.
Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis carries a SRP of $39.99 USD. Did you know that’s the official retail price point for a value title on the Xbox 360? That’s a rant for another place, another time. As for my recommendation: if you’re not someone who likes to jump on Xbox Live or invite a group of friends over to play video games, Rockstar’s Table Tennis is not really for you; the singleplayer campaign is a little too shallow. However, if you do enjoy the company and challenge of playing with other humans and you have an interest in Ping Pong, you should definitely give Rockstar’s Table Tennis a try. You’ll be amazed just how well the game captures the essence of the sport.