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Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis

I remember the confused look on my face the day I first heard that Rockstar, one of today's most controversial game developers, first game for a next generation console was going to be a Table Tennis game. When you think of polar opposites, the only thing that could have been even further away from Grand Theft Auto (or even Manhunt for that matter) would be a lemonade stand simulation, but table tennis does come close.

In what is reported to be essentially a technical demo/experiment for the newest engine that Rockstar has developed, Table Tennis does definitely impress and shows great promise for what is yet to come from this acclaimed development team.

When a game this simple to describe and play is made, the developers really need to concentrate on what would make the title stand out. I mean how hard is it to whack a plastic ball from on side of a particle board table to another; even with the obstacle of a net in the middle; and even more important how can they make this fun.

Taking a cue from Top Spin and the sport of table tennis, when playing the game different play styles come into consideration. Some players rely highly on their power to blast the ball past an opponent, while others focus on finesse and subtle ball spins to confuse and manipulate opponents. A wide assortment of character types are included in Table Tennis, with the majority being unlockable through tournament play or brute force beat downs of the CPU in exhibition mode.

Four basic ball spins can be added to your hit on both your serve and on returning a players hit, with one of each type mapped to each of the face buttons (or right thumb stick). While playing solely with the buttons will be adequate for winning matches both online and off, it seems to be much easier to add complex spins to the ball when using the thumb stick. It's these complex shots that will propel your game forward, making right bending drop shots immediately followed by smashes which force a return volley to pop up are key to taking down opponents.

Learning to play the title takes very little time with a very brief tutorial which outlines the ins and outs of serving, ball placement and how to correctly return shots of specific spin types. It only scratches the surface, but gives you a great base for tackling the first tournament mode while giving you a fighting chance at winning.

Yes, this game is a blast when you first pop it in and take down some opponents online in a timed tournament, or even when you beat the CPU the first couple dozen times. But the lasting appeal of the title is really suspect, even with the online mode. After playing the game enough to unlock characters and play online games, I was already finding myself wanting to get back to playing something else and I became bored with this title. Admittedly, most of my play consisted of playing people online or the CPU and I could see some great fun coming from playing with someone sitting on the couch next to you.

Aside from high potential for monotony, my only other complaint with the title had to do with the otherwise spot on control scheme. The movement of your character wasn't completely smooth or responsive at all times. There were moments where my character would delay her reaction to my command to bounce across the screen, only to end up having to lunge for the ball, either missing or making a poor shot as a result. I realize that when the characters are off balance, this is a desired action but this was apparent even during slow paced matches.

There is no doubt about the high quality of the graphics that Rockstar brought to the table here. Clothing on each character bent and flowed off the characters as it would in real life. I can't tell you how many times I whiffed the ball due to being distracted by the bounce and flutter of a t-shirt, not to mention the slowly expanding rings of perspiration.

Each unique character was brought to life with emphasis placed on the little details and expressions. Carmen, the South American had a very different facial expression than the Irish Cassidy when certain actions took place. Not only were expressions unique to each character, but even the complexions of each was rendered down to the minutia of pores and blemishes.

The only flaws with the graphics were the sparse rooms where the matches were played. But to be honest, this wasn't much of a distraction as at times throughout the game as both opponents entered a focused mode, the backgrounds would blackout and only the table and players were visible, much how real athletes view things when they play their respective sports.

Who says a game has to have explosions and overbearing sound effects to be excellent? Rockstar does the whole gaming experience justice here by excelling in the art of subtlety. The music never is overbearing on a match, as it tends to fade in and out based on how each particular volley is going.

Crowd noise too is done to perfection, with the crowd chanting their preferred players name as match point nears, and applauding a great play by either player. The announcer also is done quite well, announcing scores and prodding a slow player on to keep the pace of the matches high. All around the audio rates very high in this title.

While not a bad game by any means, Rockstar Game Presents Table Tennis does have potential for some gamers to be a game that packs short lived excitement. For the first few days, I was enthralled with the title and itched to get back to playing it; but as time went on it slipped further from my mind as something that I really wanted to play. The controls in general were spot on, with the one flaw that I outlined above detracting only slightly from the game. Setting up tournaments and other matches online was a breeze, and I never found it a challenge to get a match going with random players when my friends list was dry.

However, even great games that have as few flaws as this one still can end up not being something that everyone needs to own. Even at the already lower price point, I have a hard time recommending the title and suggest that you consider renting it before spending the cash on this title. But again, I want to drive home the point that this game is fun (even if short lived), it's very well designed and superbly executed and should be played at least once.