|Rockstar Presents Table Tennis (2006)
Available for: Xbox 360
Rockstar has never been one to turn down the chance at shocking the world. Over the last five years alone, the indie developers have pushed the boundaries of sex and violence in video games further than anyone could have possibly imagined. Their incredibly successful “Grand Theft Auto” franchise can surely attest to that (especially after last year’s Hot Coffee scandal), but the only thing surprising about their latest title, “Table Tennis,” is that they developed it. There are no guns, drugs, or strippers in this game, and you won’t be given the chance to bludgeon your opponent with your paddle. It’s just 100% unadulterated ping pong fun, but while the “back to basics” approach by the company is commendable, “Table Tennis” simply doesn’t have enough features to keep the average gamer entertained for more than a few hours.
For those of you who have never played table tennis before, the game is quite simple: hit a small plastic ball over a miniature net in an attempt to win points. The first person to eleven (win by two) takes home the bacon. Of course, you don’t actually get anything for your hard work, except maybe a few pathetic unlockables and some much-needed self-respect, and the path you take to get there is pretty dull. There are three game modes – Tournament, Exhibition and Xbox Live – and somehow, they all play out the same way. Tournament mode is probably the least gratifying, however, because unlike other sports titles, which offer multi-season career modes, the longest you’ll ever play with a single character in “Table Tennis” is just a couple matches. Even worse, the ability to create your own unique ping pong champion doesn’t even exist, and you’ll have to manage with playing as one of the game’s eleven existing characters, all of which have their own strengths and weaknesses.
When it comes down to it, though, all of the characters play relatively the same way. You have four shots at your disposal – topspin (A), backspin (Y), right spin (B) and left spin (X) - as well as the ability to modify each one. You can perform a Soft Shot by pressing the left bumper button, which takes speed off the ball and causes it to drop short, or activate the Focus Shot (right bumper), which helps to counter your opponent’s more difficult, high-powered shots. The gameplay is also incredibly realistic, but aside from the fast-paced feel of the game, “Table Tennis” isn’t much more than an over glorified next-gen version of “Pong.” It’s seriously lacking in depth, and the in-game flaws are too many to ignore. Take for instance the slow-motion cutaways that interrupt match play several times throughout the game. While pretty to look at, they almost always cause the player to miss a shot, and though the option to remove them is available, it’s just an unnecessary nuisance that gamers shouldn’t be forced to deal with.
“Table Tennis” isn’t a complete washout, however. The game does look amazing while running on the 360 and is a blast to play in small doses, but regrettably, it just doesn’t have the same kind of shelf life that the rest of Rockstar’s catalog offers. Still, it’s nice to see the company moving away from their usual carte du jour of sex and violence, and at the budget price of $39.99, most gamers won’t be able to resist.