the resigned gamer, everything I hate about the thing I love the most

Table Tennis: It is only in constraint that we find possibility

Posted by Sir Cucumber at 8:11 AM on Wednesday, May 28, 2008

sir cucumber's bitter corner, the resigned gamer

When all is said and done, do you really need a game that lets you create your character using nine different skin tones and twelve varying facial characteristics so he looks like you, or Jean Luc Picard? You'll just spend the whole time staring at the back of his head anyway. Be honest- do you have any use for an unlockable Time Attack mode, and are you ever going to look at that concept art? No. Gaming should be its own reward.

Rockstar demonstrates this with Table Tennis, which I imagine to have been conceived as a post-hot-coffee-burn fuck you to the rest of the industry by saying, "See? We can still make games ten times more innovative and fun than you without using the slightest hint of sex or violence- we just choose not to."

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Not unlike Pong or Odin Sphere, Table Tennis takes a single mode of a simple game and, diving into the details, makes it deep and complex. At all times you must consider your angle and distance from the table, as well as your opponent's, where you want to hit the ball, how much power and what type of spin you want to put on it, what type of spin your opponent just used beforehand, and each of your turbo levels.

Atmospherically, the game takes a flat, sterile playing field and ratchets up the intensity better than any deathmatch or guitar showdown. A rally begins in silence and techno music gradually builds as it slogs on, along with cheers Eventually a trancelike state is implied when a spotlight falls on the table and the room darkens, as the sounds of the ball start to echo in your head. Winning points such as these are incredibly satisfying. Losing them makes you want to pull your hair out.

Another amazing feature to pull you into the game is vibration. The closer your aim and power pushes the ball to going out, the more your controller vibrates. Like picking a lock in Splinter Cell, the trick is finding just the right amount vibration.

All this gameplay is delivered in typical Rockstar form, with the camera quickly cutting to slow-motion closeups on nail biter shots and the characters coming alive with emotion. Never to the point of pomposity though, Rockstar allows each piece of flair to be deactivated or skipped, proving once again that style is not a tradeoff versus substance.

Now if only they'd let you do this: