.A Great Idea
I did wonder, before playing this, how good it would be. I know tennis can be fun, but table tennis? I honestly wasn’t sure.
But, guess what? Rockstar has done it again. A very simple core idea, a la GTA, Manhunt etc, executed wonderfully. Now, I have a friend who worked on this, so… there may be a tiny bias, but that said… I’m pretty honest and I don’t mind offending people, not even my friends!
As has come to be expected from a Rockstar game, the frontend is simple but slick. Nicely put together and very easy to navigate. The options you actually have are pretty limited, what do you expect? It’s table tennis! I did the training, which quickly and efficiently teaches you everything you need to know to get cracking. The only thing it doesn’t give you is the lightning quick reflexes to carry out all the skills you've learnt during an intense 50+ rally!
Once you are actually playing you truly get to feel where the games strength lies. What I really love is once you hit anything over a 15+ rally, music starts to play and the longer that rally continues the more intense and loud the music gets. It really gets you into it.
I wish I could remember the name, but I got quite addicted to an online table tennis game that was awesome, let you give crazy spin and had multiple CPU opponents who got harder and harder. Part of me feels that someone at Rockstar played this as much as I did and had the initiative to make it into a full game, because the mechanics are similar. This is not a bad thing, as they have executed it all very well.
The reaction style gameplay really works, and it isn't panic reaction, this is where its strength lies. You feel that you know what you are trying to do with every shot and if you fail, you overstretched or were just too slow to get the return. My only complaint in this respect is the necessity to do a little “matrix” slow-down when you use your focus to hit the ball, it just ends up happening all to often which can break up that mad intensity during a long rally. This is a small gripe over all though.
.The Next Generation
To be honest, it’s not really, “next-gen”, but it looks bloody good. The animation system feels smooth (unlike fight night 360), and for the most part blends each of the possible moves together really well. The only time it appears a little odd is when you are ready to hit the incoming ball but it misses the table and the game decides you don’t need to hit it, so releases the animation. It isn't bad per se, it can just be a little odd looking. The cloth dynamics on the characters are the standout component. Simply looks gorgeous and is possibly the most next-gen thing about the whole game.
It really does feel easy and fluid moving the ball around the table, the controls are slick and simple. I definitely prefer the two thumbstick approach rather than thumbstick + buttons. It feels very good.
Each direction on the right thumbstick is a type of spin. It is very easy to quickly make your shot when the ball is moving at speed, which is the most important aspect. The ability to slow the pace down with the slow-ball button is also a nice feature, because it can certainly get hectic. The movement of the character isn’t quite as reactive as I would have liked considering the speed of the actual game. When you see people playing table tennis in the Olympics they dive around like crazy and can move from 8 feet away from the table to right next to it lunging for a short ball over the net in a second or less! This is quite simply impossible to do in the game. There is obviously a good reason for this as it would have certainly affected the control method. The way it is now offers consistent fluidity to the movement and momentum of the match that may not have been there otherwise.
.Rockstar for less
How very refreshing to see a videogame giant like Rockstar not trying to penny pinch from its customers. They knew they were making a relatively simple game, and as such should be selling it for a reasonable price. When other games like World Cup 2006 from EA is still $59.99 +tax and is clearly just a very simple update from FIFA 2006, with only frontend changes, costume changes and team changes (very offensive), it’s really pleasant to see a company, even without the game being a sequel, offering a next-gen title in a relatively reasonable price bracket.
.VS The World
To be honest, online, the game has issues. It’s wonderful to play, and it’s awesome to get into that 100+ rally with a real person and hear both of you starting to chuckle and fret when that music really starts to pump! However, there is slowdown and lag which I wouldn’t have expected. I mean, I realise it's a very fast paced game, but what, online, does the game truly need to be tracking and sending between the players? I’m not sure about it at all. Sometimes you can go three shots without seeing your opponents’ actual moves which can make returning the ball very confusing from time to time. It also does this a lot during spectator mode.
I must say, as fun and exciting as it can be to play online, the connection and lag issues make it hard to want to play and really, for what should be a fairly simple set of data to send back and forth this can not really be forgiven.
But... it is fun!
.On the Whole
I can’t really argue with this game. It’s just simply a delight to play and when you are playing with a human, whether online or in the same room, it certainly gets you both smiling when the rally gets crazy. The price makes it even more worth getting and it’s just quite simply put, cool. It really is just a shame about the online issues. Those aside, superb!