Well, who would have thunk it? It would seem that a table tennis craze has been pencilled in for summer this year, carefully orchestrated by the videogames taste-meisters at Rockstar Games. Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis launches on the Xbox 360 in May and has, despite all our initial expectations, become SPOnG?s most anticipated next generation title.
The initial news that the Rockstar guys were going to be making a table tennis game for their first next gen outing on the Xbox 360 was greeted with incredulity and disbelief in some quarters of the games press, and with outright laughter and scorn in others. How could the Grand Theft Auto people, the scourge of decent thinking Daily Mail readers across the land, possibly think of bringing out a frikkin? ping pong game? 'Is this an early April Fool?s gag or what?' was the general tone of the initial media response. Until, that was, the screens started seeping out. And suddenly there was barely audible, but excitable whispering of ?hold on a second, this actually doesn?t look too bad, this just might work
SPOnG readers of a certain age may remember SEGA?s mid-80s attempts at Table Tennis in the arcade. And whilst that game, certainly in comparison to this one, was essentially a fairly basic and rudimentary development of Pong, it was the first thing we thought of when we heard about Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis. We also realised that some of the more recent attempts to capture the downright addictive nature of table tennis in videogame form had been less than successful, certainly outside of Japan. Xplosiv?s execrable Spin Drive Ping Pong being the latest example of what had, until now, been looking like a dead-end sports genre.
The next thing that came to mind was this: table tennis, ping pong, whatever you want to call it, totally rules.
It?s what we refer to as a ?crossover? sport ? which, in layman?s terms, means that big fat beery slobs who spend far too much time on the sofa watching the telly or playing videogames, can also play table tennis and actually feel like they are playing a proper sport. It?s a bit like badminton in this regard. And one or two notches up from darts.
What Rockstar has done with Table Tennis is simple and genius. It's said: 'table tennis is fun, let's make a table tennis game that combines everything that?s good about Virtua Fighter and Virtua Tennis - but let's make it better than those games too.' And it has, unbelievably, achieved this. And more.
For anybody who has played either of the above-mentioned SEGA classics, you will understand, we hope, what we are trying to get at here. If you remember the first time that you played Virtua Tennis, for example, whether in the arcade or on Dreamcast, you will remember the sense of amazement at the intuitive nature of the controls and the almost alarmingly realistic learning curve that the game possessed.
Combine this with the intensity and speed of a good fighting game, the sheer physical and visceral feel of beating somebody to a bloody pulp, and you are coming close to understanding what the experience of playing Rockstar Games' Table Tennis is actually like. 360 owners can forget about their cutting edge future wargames and their beautiful, sublime RPGs - this is what the Xbox 360 was made for - full-on, intense, shouty, screamy ping pong battling. With gritted teeth as you try to break a rally and tears of joy as you pull off a full power forehand smash.
The Rockstar fellas informed us - as they graciously fed us a mountain of pizza and ensured that the strong, continental lager kept flowing ? that they have all been huge fans of table tennis for years, the game being played regularly in office tournaments. For the cynics amongst you, this is no mere PR bullshit - they really are genuine table tennis fans.