Rockstar Games’ Table Tennis turned out to be quite the little gem on the Xbox 360. It captured the essence of the sport brilliantly. It was only natural for Rockstar to serve up a Wii version of the game, what with the popularity of Wii Sports and the console’s motion sensing capability lending perfectly to the mechanics of Table Tennis. How could you possibly go wrong?
It turns out it’s pretty easy if you don’t take full advantage of the Wii’s functionality. The standard control scheme uses just the Wii Remote. The d-pad controls the spin of the ball while the A and B buttons are used to perform soft and focus shots respectively. The gesture controls are pretty basic. Just think of the table as being divided into six quadrants. If you want to hit the ball into the left backcourt, you swing the Wii Remote high and to the left. If you wish to hit the ball into the right forecourt you swing low and to the right. Serving works in similar fashion. First you trigger the serve by raising the Wii Remote to mimic throwing the ball into the air, then you have to time your directional swing with the serve meter onscreen in order to maximize the power of your serve. The mechanics are a little imprecise. Between the Wii not registering the starting motion and the serve not going where you intend, it can quickly become an exercise in frustration. Last but not least, in this default scheme player movement is controlled entirely by the AI so all you have to worry about is striking the ball.
There are two variations on the standard control scheme available. The first, “Control Freak,” presents the same setup with the addition of the Nunchuk to control player movement. Considering the AI does a perfectly decent job handling player movement on its own, I don’t see why you’d want to the hassle of manually moving your avatar into position before using the Wii Remote to return the ball. And believe me, it is a hassle. The third control scheme, “Sharp Shooter,” takes the gesture controls right out of the game and maps ball placement to the analog stick of the Nunchuk. But isn’t that what the Wii is all about, motion control? What’s the point in taking the big selling point of the game, out of the game? You’re better off playing the Xbox 360 version in that case.
So, serving is a little ticky-tacky and the control variations are redundant. That’s not what gets my goat about the Wii version of Table Tennis. What gets my goat is the fact that while the standard control scheme is entirely functional, it doesn’t take full advantage of the Wii. It doesn’t feature a 1:1 mechanic. In other words, the actions made by your character don't mimic the movements you make with the Wii Remote. You don’t have to time your swing with the incoming shot. The speed with which you swing the Wii Remote has no effect on the power of your returning shot. Rotating the Wii Remote while swinging does not result in added spin to your shot. Swinging on your forehand or backhand does not mean your character will swing in the same manner. These are aspects I expect to see in a game that takes a serious approach to the sport of Table Tennis. It’s disappointing. The end result is little more than Wii Sports Tennis with more realistic graphics.
Even on the Xbox 360, the single player portion of Rockstar’s Table Tennis was pretty shallow. There’s a training mode where you’ll learn the basics of serving, spins and ball placement, as well as how to perform soft shots, smashes and counterspins. Aside from that, you can challenge an individual character to a match in Exhibition Mode or participate in one of the four Tournament circuits of varying skill level. Playing through these modes will unlock additional characters, venues and gear. There are 11 characters in total, each representing a country and style of play. For instance, Jesper from Sweden is a power player, relying heavily on forehand topspins, while France’s Luc presents a decidedly defensive style of play, utilizing backspins to his advantage.
The Xbox 360 version of Rockstar’s Table Tennis made up for the lack of single player depth with online multiplayer. The Wii version, sadly, does not. That’s not so much Rockstar’s fault as it is the Wii not having the proper infrastructure for online play. The graphics are also obviously downgraded from the Xbox 360 version. For a Wii title, it’s still an excellent presentation, with smooth player animation, effective lighting and spot-on sound effects.
Maybe my expectations for the Wii version of Rockstar Games’ Table Tennis were a little too high. I just feel that if you’re going to create a game for the Wii console, you should go the whole nine yards. The controls are functional, but they don’t nearly take full advantage of the Wii’s motion sensing technology, and without online multiplayer the shortcomings of the single player game are that much more evident. There’s fun to be had with Table Tennis, for a brief period, but ultimately it misses the mark.