[this is a repost of the original article posted on Xbox-Scene.]
Rockstar is probably most well known for their Grand Theft Auto series of games. A game that sells in enormous quantities with each new release and is constantly in the press over due to it’s excessive use of video game violence, sexual content, and language that would make a sailor blush. Even Rockstar’s other games are fairly “adult oriented” in terms of their content. So when the announcement dropped they would be making an exclusive Xbox 360 game it’s pretty clear what people were expecting to see. It was quite surprising when it was announced that the new game would be Table Tennis. Since then it has been rumored that the engine used for the table tennis game is the same one Rockstar plans to use for the next Grand Theft Auto game. Making a small game based around the same engine is quite a good idea because it builds familiarity with the system and the engine. Despite the game simply acting as a testing ground for their REAL next title that doesn’t mean that Rockstar just threw it together. It’s a really well put together game and just as deserving of your money as any other title.
TITLE: Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis
PUBLISHER: Rockstar Games
DEVELOPER: Rockstar San Diego
DATE RELEASED: 5/23/2006
NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 2
XBOX SYSTEM LINK: no
XBOX LIVE COMPATIBLE: Yes
HDTV Support: 720p
5.1 Surround Sound: Yes
GENRE: Sports (Table Tennis)
PLATFORM: Xbox 360
ESRB: E (Everyone)
Retail Price: $39.99 USD
At fist glance the game looks incredibly simple. Two players with paddles standing at opposite sides of a table hitting a ball back and forth; really it’s the most advanced version of Pong ever made. It sound simple but the first game against the computer or against a human opponent online and you’ll soon find that the game isn’t as simple as it first seemed. Much like the real game of Table Tennis you must tweak various aspects of your shot to make it difficult for your opponent to return a shot. This includes adjusting the spin (english) you put on the ball, the amount of power in which you hit the ball, the location on your opponent’s side of the table where the ball will bounce, and your players position which effects the aforementioned factors, whether you hit it with a back hand or forehand, as well as help line you up for your next shot.
The left analog stick moves your character around, it’s not as restrictive as you might think. Though your character will always face the table you can take a good six to eight steps off to either side and even further when moving straight back. This gives you a whole lot of freedom to play around with the space For returning the ball you can either use the right analog stick or the ABXY buttons. Each button (or direction) corresponds to a different type of spin; topspin (A or Up), backspin (Y or Down), left-spin (X or Left), or right-spin (B or Right). holding a direction on the right stick or button will anchor your player in place and wind up the shot. The longer you hold the more powerful the shot. Once you start winding up the left stick is used to place the ball on the other side of the table. The controller’s rumble will let you feel out the edge of the table getting more intense the closer you get to the edge and going full blast if you go over (causing your shot to go OUT). This system works pretty well overall but on occasion you’ll push your direction a fraction of a second before you start winding up and make your character walk off in the complete opposite direction you intended, since you’ll often want to position yourself right and hit left. It would have been nice if they provided an option to invert the ball placement control, as that would fix the problems in these situations.
Putting spin on the ball will add small spin indicators that swirl around it, each spin is given a different color, which matches with the associated ABXY button that creates the spin. This allows you to better analyze the on coming shot. The more spin on the ball the brighter the indicators and the more obvious it is. While this isn’t vital to playing the game it’s a shame that there aren’t any options available for the colorblind (For instant Hexic HD provides an overlay with symbols in addition to colors).
In addition to the basic controls there are buttons you can push for soft shots or “focus” shots which will temporarily boost the accuracy, power, and spin on the ball. Your focus meter is built up with each successful shot and builds faster with more powerful shots. If the option is enabled it will also slow down time and zoom in on the shot, as if you’re the Neo of table tennis. You can also enter focus mode which will drain your focus meter constantly over time. If both players enter focus mode at the same time the room will darken save a spot light on the table and everything gets quiet as if the whole world has been blocked out. It’s a really cool effect and really makes the game more intense.
Graphically the game is awesome, the animations are smooth and natural, everything is fully detailed and photographic from scuff marks on the paddles to a fully animated stadium audience that reacts appropriately to the game. Little details like clothing that moves and sways like real fabric or a net that ripples realistically when hit by the ball, even characters with flowing hair will have it bounce and wave like you’d expect (much more realistic then the blocky hair in Dead or Alive 4)
Much like the gameplay and graphics the sound in this game is fantastic as well. Sneakers squeak on the floor, paddles make a satisfying and non-repetitive percussive sound when met with the ball. Characters grunt and shout things in their native tongues. Even the audience sounds incredibly realistic. A silent room waiting for a serve one or two individual people will shout out encouragement to a specific player. When a good shot is made the crowd will cheer and when it gets down to the wire they’ll stamp their feet or chant. All of this become that much more exciting with the eerily accurate echos in 5.1 surround, if you closed your eyes you’d swear you were in an actual stadium. Most of the game doesn’t have music but if you begin to have a good rally (number of consecutive hits back and forth) the music will kick in and add to the intensity. It’s done very well.
While the characters may not be based on real life people they certainly feel like they were at least inspired by them. Each character hails from a different country and has unique stats that can dramatically change how they play. Jesper from Sweden is the largest character, he has fantastic reach and the most power, but most of his other abilities such as speed, spin, serve, accuracy, etc. are lacking. Kumi on the other hand hails from Japan and has low power but excellent spin abilities, also being one of the shorter players her reach isn’t as good so she needs to move around a lot more then Jesper does. A lot of the players do fit into the stereotypes of their native countrymen but regardless the players available range dramatically in stats and it makes for a very interesting game. Some characters play into other’s weaknesses, others are evenly matched. Some characters will cater more to your personal play style then others. The character you choose in this game is just about as important as picking the right character in a fighting game. Also each character has a distinct personality and quirks. Liu Ping from China remains completely stone faced at all time and will sometimes fan his face with the paddle if he misses a shot. Hailey from the US is very animated rocking back and rolling her eyes in disappointment, letting out an exasperated “oh man!” when she misses a shot and shouting in excitement when she scores a point. It’s often quite funny to see these characters take a game of table tennis so seriously but it also gives them a personality that gives them more of a human feel then graphics and sound alone.
As far as Replay value goes, for such a simple game it’s bursting with longevity. Playing offline you have tournaments you can enter at 4 different difficulty levels as well as the ability to play exhibition games against the computer or against another human opponent on the same console. There are lots of things to unlock here too each character starts with 2 outfits with 4 more you can unlock by accomplishing particular tasks within a game. Like winning a game by making your opponent hit the net or rallying for over 40 hits. Each character also has a “recreational” arena in their homeland that you can unlock through accomplishing a particular task. Locations like a gym, a basement or a warehouse. A number of characters need to be unlocked as well. This can be accomplished by winning tournaments against the computer at certain difficulties or within certain time limits or simply by winning against the computer X amount of times. There are loads of offline achievements for collecting all the costumes, characters, and locations as well as for winning tournaments at different difficulties or winning tournaments with every character, even an achievement for playing offline for over 10 hours.
Online play as just as many options and challenges as offline play. There’s a ranked mode, and unranked mode, spectator mode, and just like offline each game is customizable in terms of number of rounds, points per serve, game points, match points etc. Achievements are well dispersed here as well with points dispersed for winning your first match, winning X matches in ranked mode, winning so many tournaments, watching a game, playing for 10 hours online, even an achievement for earning the highest TrueRank possible. Gamerscore whores beware this game can be very difficult to earn points in. Which is bad for players just looking for quick points but fantastic for those of us who’d like a game to be really fun and challenging for a long long time. Like Geometry Was you’ll either love this title or hate it but if you find love you’ll be addicted and find it hard to put down. The $40 price tag makes it all that much more appealing.
On a whole Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis is a fantastic. Its a very new take on one of the oldest genres in video game history. Graphics, sound, gameplay, and soul make it a true winner on every front. Oodles of replay value in this fun game coupled with the very reasonable $40 price tag make it definite buy. If Rockstar puts half the heart and detail into their next titles as they did into this title then we have a very exciting next generation to look forward to.
Overall I give Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis a 9.5 out of 10
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