Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Graduated Gamer Reviews: Rockstar Table Tennis

Some time ago, during the Xbox Live Ultimate Game Sale Review Extravaganza (official name), I was intrigued by Rockstar Table Tennis, so much so that I decided to give it space on my hard drive. This isn't my typical fare, especially for a sports genre, but it had a few factors going for it: 1) it was $3, 2) it's by Rockstar, and 3) I love playing table tennis. Thus, I caved and bought it before the July 3rd short sale was over. Now, this game is no longer on uber sale, but it's still worth a review in my mind, so consider it a bonus level or something.

Now to be honest right up front, this game is nothing special. It won't wow you with graphics or story, and it doesn't even have a campaign mode, a mainstay for almost any sports game today. However, what R* Table Tennis lacks in depth, it makes up for in pure entertainment value. R* did a fantastic job crafting a game that is easy to pick up and play, yet requires practice and patience to master. By the end of my 5+ hours of playing both offline and online, this huge NHL and NCAA fan found himself addicted to a game about ping pong.

The biggest draw of this game is the gameplay itself. You can certainly jump right in and start mashing buttons to figure out how to land a sweet smash shot, but with the amazing tutorial the Rockstar created for the game I recommend you start there. It took me no more than 10 minutes to run through the entire tutorial and feel extremely comfortable with the controls. I knew precisely how to land a drop shot with the flick of a thumb stick, but also how to deftly return a smash shot, and it didn't feel tedious at all. This is exactly the sort of thing that can be the difference between a quickly thrown together game for profit and a game that wants you to take it seriously, even if it is a barely noticeable Olympic sport (est. 1988 - that's trivia for your brain).

Make it in that blue space and you just might get an achievement!

Granted, even after the tutorial you'll find yourself hitting the wrong shot once in a while. This has less to do with confusing controls (which are very straightforward), and more to do with the fast pace of the game (Remember that scene from Forrest Gump? Dial that back a bit and you've got it). You’ll eventually get the hang of your shot selection, but what I couldn't get the proper feel for was the player movement. You have a very finite space within which to move (i.e. – just more than the width of a ping pong table) but the motion of your player feels clunky, like his joints are locked in place. This leads to some missed returns when your player seems to refuse to move left fast enough. On the flip side, sometimes my player ranged too far in one direction even after I released the thumb stick, leading to me being extremely out of position.

However, the little quirks with player movement did not deter me from the best aspect of the game: its addictive nature. I would've never believed a table tennis game could be so competitive even against AI, but in the heat of a 30+ shot volley, you’ll find yourself tensing up, your every fiber yearning to win this point. The crowd gets into it, oh-ing and ah-ing with every skillful return and every anticipated smash shot. It helps you get more involved in the game, especially when the crowd screams your name like people would at Wimbledon. Perhaps it’s not realistic (I've never been to an actual table tennis match), but it accomplishes what it sets out to do: make you feel a part of the experience rather than a bystander.

Adding to the fun of this game are the player “personalities”. Each character has its own set of disappointed expressions, even going so far as to talk to themselves (“Get your head in the game!”), and when doing well I've never seen a cockier group of ping pong stars. Blowing on your “hot” paddle, fist pumping, and gesturing to the crowd is just a taste of what you’ll see characters do after a crucial point or a long volley won, and it’s just hilarious to watch in the context. Still, I even found myself doing a little trash talking, particularly when I smash a shot in my opponents face (literally, that can happen and it’s very satisfying).

There can be only one!

The game can be fairly forgiving, allowing your player to make pretty hard shots with ease and preventing you from accidentally hitting out shots (trust me, it doesn't feel cheap). But on the flip side, the game can also eat you alive with its unbalanced AI. Certain players are experts at a few things and average at others – my favorite playable character is very adept at accurately placing a ball, but he isn't going to ace anyone on his serves. This allows players to find a character that matches their preferences, but it can lead to mismatches in gameplay. For example, one character can offer up extremely hard and accurate serves, and if your player isn't good at returns you’ll be setting up your opponents for smash shots more than you’d like. While it’s easy to adjust to, it can be a major uphill battle to win a match with unbalanced match-ups.

I would like to say that the online component of the game is fantastic, but there just isn't much of a dedicated community out there. I spent 30 minutes trying to find match-ups online and only played two short matches. Also, the community skill set is very unbalanced, which is likely the result of older players lingering and newer players like myself joining because of the Ultimate Sale. Perhaps things will balance out in time, but for now it’s a crapshoot whether you’ll get a competitive match or get smoked – there’s almost no middle ground.

More trivia: in table tennis, China has more gold medals (24)
than the next best country has total (N. Korea - 18).

If you’re looking for a fun game to play with your friends or a nice way to kill some time online, Rockstar Table Tennis will fill that need well enough. The lack of a campaign mode won’t lead to any long-winded playing sessions, but the competitive nature of the game will suck you in and bring you back for more. There are plenty of unlockables in the game, from new arenas to shirts to players, but nothing really worthwhile in my opinions outside of trying to get a player that has better stats. I think it would have been a good idea if certain unlockables could improve your stats, like new paddles for better accuracy or goggles for slow time, to make you more likely to try to unlock everything. This may have made the game more arcade-y, but I think it would add a nice element to a game that otherwise doesn't give you more to do that play exhibitions and tournaments. Still, for $3 I think I found myself a great game to pick up from time to time, if for nothing than to watch my character fist pump after landing a nice smash shot in someone’s face.

1 comment:

  1. Rofl I like how one of the tags is "China owns us all in table tennis"!


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