Rockstar should stick to killing hookers.
A long, long time ago, in a rec room far, far away, I whittled away my entire youthful summers playing ping-pong and air hockey. Even today, I cannot pass up the opportunity to play either casual sport. When the Xbox 360 version of Table Tennis was first released, I admit to being a little sad that I did not own said console. Now Rockstar has ported the game onto my precious Wii, with the motion controls that would surely make a game like table tennis as fun as it could possibly be! But lo, fun times were not to be had, as I realized with some disappointment that table tennis, at least in Rockstar’s world, is the driest, most boring sport of them all, surpassing even baseball (ooh, burn!).
The instruction booklet makes a big fuss about how table tennis became an Olympic sport in the late 80’s, but Table Tennis makes no effort to make you feel like you’re playing an Olympic game. There are no actual table tennis players, which boggles the mind. There are only a multitude of ethnicities represented, all of whom are known on a purely first-name basis. After choosing your character, you can select from a less-than-exciting array of jersey colors, most of which must be, you guessed it, unlocked. You then begin a match, which is where the fun begins.
You can choose either Tournament or Exhibition. There is no Career or Story mode. You will not move up the ranks from somebody’s garage to the Olympic stadium. Instead, you are thrown in a human vs. CPU (or human vs. human vs. CPU) tournament that can go for as long as you can stand, or a human vs. CPU (or human vs. human) best-of-three ping-pong-off. You do not gain stat increases after numerous wins, and there is no story progression. You simply pick your character, then pick the computer’s character, and begin the match. Table Tennis is not a game in which you progress in any meaningful way, as you do in virtually every other sports game. This is not Tiger Woods, nor is it Mario Tennis.
Let’s talk about the motion controls. There are three control styles: Standard, Control Freak, and Sharpshooter. None of them really get the job done well. In Standard mode, all you have to do is lob the Wii Remote as the ball flies toward you. Unfortunately, your swing is not 1:1, meaning that merely jabbing the Remote toward the screen results in your character making the hit. That would be fine by me, except that the computer controls your character’s movement. There is also some annoying lag time between your swing and the onscreen character’s swing. Control Freak is a mess, requiring the Nunchuk to move your character manually while you continue swinging with the Remote. In theory, that sounds great, but in practice, it’s awful. Your character moves with all the grace and speed of a sumo wrestler, meandering left and right even as the ball flies well beyond his or her reach. The best control scheme is Sharpshooter, which is basically the same as Standard, but the Nunchuk’s analog stick allows you to aim your shot. This is a much better setup than the purely theoretical Standard method of aiming your shot by swinging, say, "up and to the right," which, in 3D space, has no real meaning. In Super Swing Golf, you are told that the left side of the Remote represents the head of the golf club. There’s no such indication in Table Tennis, so your "down and to the left" attempts are best guesses..
Well, it’s a port of an Xbox 360 game, so it must at least look good, right? Like everything else about Table Tennis, though, the visuals disappoint. The Wii game is missing the impressive cloth physics, sharp graphics, and lighting effects which made the 360 version look so pretty. In fact, Table Tennis on the Wii looks sort of blurry and darkened. There’s no announcer, or ambient music (unless a match is getting really heated), and the characters do nothing but grunt and wince as they lunge for the ball.
The thing that really shakes me about Table Tennis, though, is that Rockstar did virtually nothing to spice up the sport. Like I said before, there are no actual players or Career-type mode. There are no power-ups, and no stat improvements. The closest thing to "technique" you’ll find is in putting spin on the ball and using your focus meter, which actually doesn’t help very much. In all, Table Tennis is a game that just screams "lack of effort." Perhaps in the future, should Rockstar continue this franchise, they can do something to make the game more fun and appealing. There is some multiplayer appeal to be had here, but honestly, there are much better party offerings on the Wii.