When released on the Xbox 360, Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis was a resounding success. Rockstar Games is a company best known for making violent games full of different modes and exciting mini-games, so to see this company tackle something so small and non-violent took a lot of people by surprise. But it worked, and the budget ping pong game managed to impress the critics and sell plenty of copies at the retail level. Flash forward a year and a half and Nintendo Wii owners are finally getting the chance to play Rockstar's fascinating next generation sports game.
You might think that with the Wii's unique motion-sensing control that a game like Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis would be a perfect fit. After all, it's simple games like Wii Tennis on the Wii Sports bundle that have convinced so many people that the Wii is the system for them. But while this may seem like a perfect fit for the console all it takes is one play to realize that there's something very wrong with this Wii port. What should have been the perfect show piece for the Wii is marred by poor controls and a complete lack of options. That's not to say that you can't have fun with Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis, but this port is nowhere near as well put together as what we saw on the Xbox 360 a year ago.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves; Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis is a relatively simple game both in concept and execution. This is not your typical sports game; you don't get a lengthy career mode, you can't create your own character and you can forget about going to some giant tournament sponsored by a beer company. Instead Rockstar's Table Tennis is a modest game that cuts out all of the fat and gives you a solid game of ping pong. You play a one-on-one game against opponents from around the world trying to be the first person to get their score to 21. It may be a simple concept, but if it's done correctly (as it was with the Xbox 360 version) it can be incredibly fun and addictive.
In Rockstar's Table Tennis you have a choice between eleven different athletes, although only a handful of those are open to you from the start. Win enough tournaments (or play enough exhibition games) and you'll eventually meet a diverse group of Table Tennis champions. Each of the characters represents a different country, everything from the USA to China to Brazil and even Egypt. Each of the Table Tennis champs has a unique stance and serve, they even hold their paddles differently.
The characters in Rockstar's Table Tennis do more than just look different; they actually have different strengths and weaknesses. Much like a fighting game, the characters in Table Tennis have their own unique way of playing the game, each person feels different from the last. Some are faster than others, others are stronger, some get tired quickly, and there are a few that are just no good at serving. You will have to play every character if you want to learn who is right for you.
Strangely enough that's not the only similarity this game shares with your average fighting game. Games are played with three rounds, or whoever manages to get two wins first. Players take turn serving the ball and the first person to 11 wins. Outside of that there isn't much more you will need to know about the grand sport of Table Tennis, which is good because when that rally gets going it rarely slows down.
Since the players are only feet away from each other the game's speed has a tendency of ramping up rather quickly. You may start with a few soft hits, but it won't take long before both of you are trying to out-smash the other person. If the game's stats are to be believed these balls can go well over sixty miles per hour. With the ball traveling that fast all it takes is one stupid mistake and the point goes to your opponent. Rockstar's Table Tennis is the type of game that gets real exciting real quick. Although it's easy to compare this game to all of the tennis simulators out there, the game's speed and intensity really sets Table Tennis apart.
Unfortunately the deceptively deep controls keep this Wii version from hitting the same high notes as the Xbox 360 original. As you can imagine, you swing the Wii remote around to hit the ball back and forth. While this works well, the problems start when you try to add effects to your hit. To spin the ball (topspin, rightspin, leftspin, and backswing) you have to push the Wii remote's D-pad, which can be somewhat awkward as you're trying to swing the control. You also have the ability to perform a soft shot (by holding the "A" button) or letting loose with a manual focus shot (by holding the "B" trigger). No matter how long I tried using this set-up I just couldn't get it to feel natural. I suspect that with enough practice (and a lot of patience) one might be able to get the hang of it and make the whole thing feel second nature, but the controls just felt awkward to me.
Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis also allows you to play the game with or without the nunchuk. In the default setting the computer will control your character, much like the way Wii Tennis played. The computer does a fine job running back and forth, but it did feel odd to only have control of the ball hitting. If you want you can plug the nunchuk in and play it that way, but that gives you just one more thing to think about when setting up your shot. Unfortunately there really is no perfect control scheme, you either have too little control or too much. In both cases the game just doesn't feel as good as it once did, and that's the biggest problem I have with this Wii port of Table Tennis.
As I played the game more it dawned on me why I was having such a hard time getting into this Wii game. In most (if not all) of the Wii Sports games the movement you made with the Wii's remote was the movement you saw on the screen. That is to say, when the tennis ball was hurdling its way towards you it was important that you swung the control at just the right time. But Rockstar's Table Tennis is not like that, just as long as you swing the remote (no matter how early it is) the character on screen will hit the ball. I suppose this was done so that you could focus more attention on the strength and spin, but it's awfully strange to swing the remote and see the movement on the screen several seconds later. I suppose that this is functional enough, but at no point did I ever feel like I was hitting the ball back and forth. In a lot of ways it felt like all of the hard work was being done for me by the computer.
Outside of the controls, the other big glaring difference between this Wii version and the game found on the Xbox 360 is the lack of online multiplayer. For years Nintendo has tried to convince us that it was more fun to have a friend over and play the game in front of the TV, and while I definitely enjoy playing that way, there's just something about playing people from around the world that appeals to me. Half of the reason I continued to play the Xbox 360 game for months after its release was because I could go online and challenge thousands of other fans, many of which were considerably better at the game than my local friends. The Wii's lack of online multiplayer really hurts the longevity of a game like this, especially considering the limited amount of modes built in to the single-player experience.
While the Xbox 360 version of the game was never the best looking game on the system, it still managed to impress its players with solid character models and a nice atmosphere that really set the mood. As you might imagine the Wii port of Rockstar's Table Tennis doesn't look nearly as good as what we played last year on Microsoft's next-gen console. It's not that the game looks bad, but the game lacks a lot of the small details that gave last year's model so much character. Gone are the amazing lighting effects that added to the atmosphere. Gone are the incredibly life-like character models that sweat and get tired. In their place are basic models that do their job, but don't look nearly as good as what you would get on another system. This lack of detail doesn't hurt the game in the same way that the crummy controls do, but there's no denying that part of the game's charm has been removed thanks to the downgrade in the graphical clarity.
The good news is the sound is as good as it ever was. Instead of constantly blasting music, Rockstar's Table Tennis takes a minimalist approach to the audio. As you start your rally all you will hear is the audience and the ball hitting the table (and paddles). Then, as your rally increases, the music gets louder and louder until it's right there intensifying the already exciting action. Miss the ball and you're right back to a game without any music.
But the real star of Rockstar's Table Tennis is not the music; it's the audience that gathered to watch your match. The people in the audience really seem to be paying attention, as they often say things that actually make sense to what is going on in front of them. It's fun to hear their different cheers (and taunts), and the audience reacts differently depending on what venue you are playing. Obviously sports games have been featuring audiences for years, but with all of the action taking place in closed quarters they come across as being very realistic, they are very authentic.
Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis is a real mixed bag; on one hand the game's sound and structure is sound, but it's hard to get over the poor play mechanics and the disappointing graphics. Worse yet, this version of the game, while $10 cheaper than most Wii games, feels grossly overpriced. These days you can pick up the vastly superior Xbox 360 version for $20, while this Wii version will run you twice that. Had the game supported online play and added a new mode or two I might see paying $40, but as it is you just don't get enough for your money. If you're one of those gamers who own a Wii and an Xbox 360, then there's no reason to get this over the version released on the Microsoft system. If the Wii is your only system then perhaps you should think about renting this or just sticking with Wii Tennis.
It seems like Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis would be a perfect fit on the Nintendo Wii, but the ugly graphics and bad control make this port extremely difficult to recommend.