It's nearly a year since we got a Wii, and still the people come. The ex-gamers, the non-gamers, the women, the children, the Dads. "Have you got one, then?" they say. They "don't normally like games", but they've seen the Wii on telly and it looks like fun. They ask if they can come round and play it, and we say yes, and we know exactly how things will go.
It'll start off with Wii Sports tennis, because that's the one they've seen on telly, and everyone will like it and laugh and knock things over. Then onto boxing, but it's a bit tiring so just one or two goes. Then bowling is enjoyed by everyone except the person who can't work out how to chuck the ball properly. It goes on a bit too long. Then golf. At least one person, probably the one who was rubbish at bowling, gives up after two goes and starts reading the paper. The match drags on. By the time it's over everyone's just about had enough, which is probably for the best as all that's left is shonky old baseball.
That's our experience, anyway, and in our experience the Wii has needed a really good sports game for a long time now. A game as simple as Wii tennis in concept, so those who aren't regular gamers can pick it up quickly. But a game which also offers depth, challenge and reward. Well, Rockstar's gone and done it.
Back once again
They've done it by taking a game which was great on Xbox 360 and making it great on Wii. Table Tennis surprised many people when it first turned up, and not just because it wasn't full of murder. It was simple, but well designed, combining brilliant gameplay with pleasing visuals and sponky music. It didn't offer a dozen modes or hours of fun for the solo player or billions of options for choosing the colour of your character's eyelashes, and it was priced accordingly. And, as Tom reported, it was great fun.
Sensibly, they haven't mucked about with much other than the controls for the Wii version. Liu Ping, Jesper, Kumi and all the others are back, the venues are the same, the music is just as sponky. As you'd expect the graphics aren't quite as shiny and detailed as those in the 360 game, but the clean, contemporary visual style is still there.
So to the controls. A sports game like this might seem like an obvious fit for the Wii, but it can all go horribly wrong if the control system isn't right - see Brunswick Pro Bowling for details. Luckily the one in Table Tennis Wii works perfectly.
Unsurprisingly you swing the remote to wave your bat about. Serving is done by swinging the remote up, then left or right when the little black bar reaches the top of the coloured meter. Pressing the various directions on the d-pad adds various types of spin. You press the A button for a soft shot, B for a focus shot. And you charge up your shots by holding down the spin button as early as possible.
Apart from the serving bit, you won't probably won't need to explain any of the above to someone picking up the remote for the first time, even if they've never played the 360 version. Or any games at all. You don't even have to worry about moving your character around the table; this is done automatically, and effectively. It's all perfectly intuitive and easy to grasp.
Pick your own
But for those who prefer to do a bit more work, Rockstar has included two extra control system options, which make use of the Nunchuk. Select Control Freak and you can use the analogue stick to move your character around yourself. Alternatively there's Sharp Shooter - this time, the stick directs the placement of the ball.
Control Freak is the more pointless of the two systems as the AI does a perfectly good job of moving characters when you're using the Standard controls. Sharp Shooter might appeal to those who are used to playing tennis games with sticks, but it seems to miss the point of the Wii's motion-sensing capabilities.
Really, you're best off sticking with the Standard remote controls and leaving the Nunchuk alone. It's not really necessary and will confuse your Mum, and more enthusiastic players are likely to end up whipping themselves around the crotch a lot.
If you're used to playing Table Tennis on 360, you might be surprised at how long it takes to adjust to the Wii controls, even if you're really good at the other version. Like, really good. Say, good enough to win an Xbox 360 in a Rockstar-organised Table Tennis tournament only the Xbox 360 gets burglarised last week while you're out at your own 30th birthday party because you live in Lewisham land of THIEVING SCUMBOS who are probably shifting it down the Bird In Hand right now in exchange for pay-as-you-go vouchers. Anyway.
Pressing the d-pad to add spin while swinging your arm around can feel a little fiddly at first, and there's the timing of the charging system to get used to. But it won't be long before it's second nature and you're taking part in good long rallies. There are moments when you'll feel there isn't quite the same level of control as you'd get with a traditional pad, but the pay-off is the greater sense of physicality and freedom the remote offers. And even if you're not using the Nunchuk, you'll feel like you have much greater control over your shots and ball placement than with a game like Wii tennis.
Let's Off Line
So the physical sensation of playing Table Tennis on the Wii is very different, as you'd expect. But the gameplay is just as good as it is on 360 - it's easy to pick up, but you're rewarded for experimenting with different shots and you feel like your performance is improving with each match you play. There is, however, one glaring disparity between the two versions: the Wii game doesn't have an online mode.
It would have been nice, yes. But is this really such a big deal? Standing in your living room swinging a remote about on your own always feels a bit odd and strangely tiring. It's hard to imagine knowing the other character on screen is being controlled by a real live person would make a huge difference. And while Table Tennis is fun to play over Xbox Live, it's always more fun if the person you're shouting at is sitting next to you anyway.
Table Tennis is a social game, which is why the single-player mode is so limited, and why no one bothers to play it on their own for more than an hour or two. As Nintendo never tires of telling us, the Wii is a social console, designed for people to enjoy together, in the same room. So while an online mode would certainly have been welcome, its omission doesn't mean Table Tennis Wii isn't worth a purchase.
It most certainly is, especially if you're at the point where you want to stab yourself in the eyes with both Wii remotes every time a friend says his girlfriend wants to come round and play the tennis game and by the way have you got the other one where you have to feed the puppies. Table Tennis Wii is the ideal alternative to Wii Sports. It's a highly enjoyable, well-designed game with simple appeal and real depth. It's the game the Wii's been waiting for - well, one of them, at least.