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Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis Review

Developer: Rockstar Games Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: May 23, 2006 Also On: None

Rockstar Games has a pretty notorious image across the world. They’ve created controversial games like Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt, State of Emergency, and the upcoming Bully (though there are rumors it may get axed). They wanted to stray away from that bad-boy image with Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis. In their conversion from big and meaty games like Grand Theft Auto, they’ve made this over-simplified, undeniably fun and extremely challenging ping pong simulator.

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Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis…or just Table Tennis, to save my keyboard from deadly wear and tear, isn’t a big smash, but it’s definitely that smooth right spin that impresses the crowd with a few key twists and sends the weak and unskilled players diving in all kinds of directions. Table Tennis is a difficult game. Though it’s extremely simple in its concept, mastering the game is done on an entirely different level than simply picking up the controller and playing. This is something I couldn’t accept for a very long time and therefore went through a whole mess of emotions regarding the game. Like real table tennis, however, gaining skill and mastering the game is something that is extremely entertaining and exciting.

You see, Table Tennis is a whole lot faster than the tennis games you’ve played in the past. Imagine Virtua Tennis or Mario Tennis on speed and you get the point. The controls are mapped to the Xbox 360 controller in a very simple way; with each face button corresponding to a directional spin on the ball and the left analog stick acting as your shot placement. At first, the system feels a little strange. Oftentimes, I felt that my player was “stuck” to the court and wouldn’t react to my directions at all and even more often I found myself using the A button for topspin almost 90% of the time until I got accustomed to the other controls. From there, it’s a matter of knowing when and where to place other spins. For example, getting your opponent off-balance is the key to winning points in some rallies and staying on your feet is the key to staying in the game.

And believe me, the games can be extremely exciting. I can recall several moments throughout the game’s Tournament mode where I was sitting on the edge of my seat, staring wide-eyed at the screen and not speaking a word as my on-screen character swatted and dove for a high-speed table tennis ball. The hits would start to pile up and seconds started feeling like minutes. I held my breath and finally exhaled as I’d score a point or I’d swear and shake my head as the opponent took advantage of my mistakes.

The A.I. in Table Tennis is truly next-generation. Some sports titles exercise obvious intelligence, like running through a huge gap in the defensive line in a football game or taking a wide-open three-point shot in a basketball game. Table Tennis takes it to a whole new level, a level where the A.I. is so unbelievably punishing to one’s mistakes that one might begin to think the computer is in fact cheating. This was my thought at first. This attitude led me to truly hate the game until I finally realized what I was doing wrong, worked on my skills, and improved. That shows a truly great video game, a game that not only punishes you for your lack of skill, but forces you to improve through execution.

Visually, Table Tennis doesn’t blow any fuses in the Xbox 360. However, it does have extremely detailed character models and some of the best crowd sound effects ever in a video game. You’ll hear cell phones going off in the crowd and when the action picks up, they’ll even start chanting the name of the more threatening player. Though the overall look and sound of Table Tennis isn’t something that would redefine visuals or sound, they’re so well done that it’s hard for me to care.

Table Tennis is a game that takes a lot of practice. Fortunately, there are gameplay modes to accommodate that need. The Tournament mode is the primary source for single-player action and it offers four cups, each one increasing in difficulty and number of matches required to win. The second mode is Exhibition, which serves as the host for same-screen multi-player. Training mode is a must in Table Tennis, as it gives exercises for every single facet of the game except for human or A.I. Competition.

Last of all is an Xbox Live online multi-player mode, which is obvious enough through that simple description. Multi-player will make your Table Tennis experience much better. While the single-player is fun enough on its own, I’ve decided that it’s just practice for playing against friends. Skilled players will find themselves in 100, maybe even 200-hit rallies in no time. There hasn’t been a better trash-talk video game since Halo 2.

Table Tennis isn’t for everyone. Gamers without patience (i.e. myself, until a certain point) should stay far away from this game, because it’s simply too technical and too difficult at first. However, those of you who enjoyed games like the Xbox 360’s Top Spin 2 or maybe even the PSP’s Virtua Tennis: World Tour, you’ll most likely find something to enjoy here. Table Tennis makes the best use of virtual ping pong since the iconic Atari hit Pong, and it should be known that Rockstar can make great games that don’t involve swatting at people, at least not swatting baseball bats and katanas.

Graphics: 7.5
Sound: 7.5
Gameplay: 7
Creativity: 7
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 7.6
Written by Cliff Review Guide