On the surface, Rockstar Presents Table Tennis seems like a perfect fit for Wii, but is it really?
Rockstar’s Wii edition of Table Tennis took up a considerable amount of space at GC 2007. The company had set up several demo stations complete with actual tables standing in front of the screens. There were also two company representatives. instructing players on how to use the remote as a paddle. This service turned out to be quite necessary, as few people managed to even make a proper serve, let alone get a lengthy rally going. For many, the problem persisted even after getting guidance, which speaks volumes of how inaccessible and counterintuitive the default control scheme was for beginners. Unfortunately, the other two control schemes don’t solve the problem. Aimed deliberately for the experienced players, they do provide a little more depth and subtlety to the gameplay, though.
Rockstar clearly tried to make the default controls simple and easy to learn. Not only are they handled exclusively with Wii Remote, your character also moves around automatically, akin to Wii Sports. Adding to the simplicity is the fact that you don’t even need to time your shots. As long as you swing the remote while the ball is coming at you, your character automatically performs the shot afterwards, if the ball comes in range. The problem is that sometimes seconds go by from the moment you swing the remote to the moment the ball is hit. You feel strangely detached from the game when seeing that your physical movements, which are supposed to be a simulation of actually hitting the ball, don’t immediately translate into corresponding movements from your character on-screen. Sometimes, the game doesn’t even register that you performed the swing at all.
Equally unnerving is the fact that - unlike in Wii Sports Tennis - the game seemingly only detects if you swing the remote, not how. You can apply topspin, backspin, or sidespin, but those feats are handled by holding down the corresponding direction on the D-pad rather than twisting the remote, which would have been much more intuitive. Perhaps true one-to-one controls are too much to ask for, but, certainly, the remote can do much more in terms of motion recognition than what is offered here.
Because of these issues, the default control scheme didn’t seem to provide an easy way for casual gamers to get into the game. Most people at the show didn’t get to see how intense the duels really get, when they develop into longer rallies, in which the speed of the ball increases, and the characters get the chance to perform cool-looking, slow-motion-inducing super shots at your command. When the rallies get really fast, the aforementioned lag between your swing movement and your character’s movement naturally decreases, which makes the controls considerably more satisfying.
Unsurprisingly, the two advanced control schemes aren’t meant to help out beginners. These schemes share all the Wii Remote-related problems mentioned earlier, but luckily they also provide an extra level of depth and a greater sense of control, sure to be appreciated by the hard-core crowd. The Sharpshooter control scheme enables you to aim your shot by using the analog stick of the Nunchuk. Now players are rewarded for being aware of the competitor’s position and successfully landing a shot outside his reach. Alternatively, Control Freak gives players control over the position of their character, which provides an extra level of challenge. Even if these control schemes don’t eliminate the core problems with the game, they do make the game more rewarding.
Graphically, the game looks respectable, though somewhat bare-bones at its current state. The characters, which almost represent the only models on-screen, move fluidly and look fairly detailed, though they obviously lack the high-resolution finesse of the 360 version. The clothes behave less convincingly now, and the beautiful sweat particles are gone. The matches also take place in empty locales with a just a simple black texture as the background. There is a distinct lack of atmosphere, seeing that the matches aren’t even set in a visible context. Fortunately, Rockstar said that practically all the content available in the 360 version, including venues, characters, and outfits, will be available in the final release.
Overall, Table Tennis still needs some work, especially in the controls department. It’s a shame considering how well motion controls and table tennis fit together conceptually. If the Wii version aims to be the definitive version of the game, a budget price also seems to be necessary, especially when considering the lack of online features and inferior graphics.