Review: Family Table Tennis (WiiWare)

Will table tennis fans rally behind this challenger to Wii Sports?

Family Table Tennis is the first WiiWare game to directly compete with Wii Sports and Wii Play -- two games that almost every Wii owner already has. So, is it a waste of your hard earned Wii Points, or a fun, new experience that can be enjoyed alongside Wii Sports Tennis? Read on to find out!

Table tennis (better known to some under the trademarked name of ‘Ping Pong’) has rules similar to regular tennis, but differs greatly in that it is generally played on a table in your basement rather than on a tennis court, and players use paddles instead of rackets. But those differences (significant in the real game) are irrelevant in a video game presentation such as this. The player seldom will notice any difference between the paddles in this game and the rackets in Wii Sports. In the end, it’s all just swinging the Wiimote, after all.

That said, the Wiimote controls are reasonably good. The strength and timing of your swing will result in similar motions made by your character on screen. There are four playable characters to choose from, but they have no noticeable impact on game play. Take note that there is not an actual one-to-one match between your motions and your character’s motions.

Three deliberate design choices keep this game from being a realistic representation of table tennis. First, no matter how poorly you swing, it is impossible to miss the table. Regardless of your skill, as long as you can hit the ball it will always land somewhere on your opponent’s side of the table every time.

Second, no matter how hard you swing, the ball will always move at a predetermined speed, set by how many times the ball has ‘rallied’ (how many times it has been hit). The more times you and your opponent hit the ball back to each other without missing, the faster the ball will go.

And lastly, you can hit the ball by swinging in either direction, regardless of which side of your character the ball is on. Changing the direction of your swing will change the direction that the ball moves in, but you are not required to do so as you can accomplish the same result by simply adjusting the speed with which you swing. In fact, the instructions advise you to do so.

Speaking of instructions, there aren’t many. But the only thing you really need to know is how to do the “Super Shot”. This is a smash that is virtually un-returnable by your opponent, and it is only available when a pair of exclamation marks appears over your head. The instructions inaccurately state that you press the A button to perform this special swing, but in reality you must hold the A button while swinging.

If you are at all experienced with Wii Sports Tennis, or the version of Table Tennis packed in with Wii Play, then you should have little trouble returning the ball in this game. And that is essentially the only challenge to this game. As long as you can hit the ball, it won’t matter too much where you place it. The winner is the person who doesn’t miss. As a result, in a versus mode game, so long as each player has had at least 20 minutes to learn how the game handles, the winner will likely be decided by whomever is lucky enough to get a Super Shot first.

When you become bored with the single player main game there are three mini games for you to check out, the first being ‘Target TT’. We actually think this serves as a good tutorial for the game and new players won’t go wrong with trying this first. It is simply a hit the target game. The opponent is there simply to hit the ball to you, which you must return and get as close as possible to a red target on the table. The only thing to do here is try to beat your previous time, so it’s a low pressure way for new players to get the feel of the paddle and see how the ball moves in relation to their swings.

The second mini game is ‘Thrilling TT’. It is played like the single player main game, except the scoring is changed to award you points based on rallies. The more rallies, the more points the winner receives. We think this would have made an excellent alternate rules set for experienced Versus players looking for a variant that rewards skill a bit more. Sadly, this mini game is single player only, and just as un-loseable as the regular single player game.

The third mini game is ‘Matching TT’. It's another target hitting game, but instead of hitting red targets, you’re now sorting fruit to either the left or right side of the table. As an added complication, you get negative points if you don’t hit it in the right place. This one is a lot more difficult than anything else in Family Table Tennis, but like everything else here it takes just one game to get the hang of it. After that you’ll struggle only to beat your previous high scores.

The mini games also provide a change of scenery, which you’ll be in need of as there are only four venues in which to play the main single or versus game. The cell-shaded anime style is pretty, colorful and friendly for children, and not overly embarrassing for an adult. The game looks attractive, but not astonishingly so; we have to wonder if a better Table Tennis game could not be made to take up the same amount of space by simply using Miis and the Wii Sports animation style.

The music is terrible, as should probably be expected. Mercifully, you don’t need audio for anything, so you can just mute your television for the duration. If for some reason you actually enjoy the music and decide to keep it, you should at least use the game’s solitary customizable configuration setting to disable the characters’ speaking voices. Surprisingly, doing so actually makes the whole game feel a bit more polished.

Overall, family table tennis is a very shallow game. After one or two games you should be able to win against the computer every time. The mini games are also only good for a few minutes. Only versus mode has any repeat value, so make sure you have at least one friend (locally—there is no online mode!) to play with. Don’t expect any kind of tournament ranking structure. This is just for friendly pick up play only. What’s tragic is that it’s not a bad game and potentially a good choice for children who find Wii Sports Tennis to be too difficult, but there is too little substance to keep the average gamer entertained for more than an hour. Compared to the real-life table tennis game (which is so much more fun than this imitation) that is not very much enjoyment at all.

Conclusion

Although Family Table Tennis is more complete than the Table Tennis game found in Wii Play, its single player is greatly outclassed by the single player mode in Wii Sports Tennis. Its only advantage over that game is that it doesn’t require a disc, so you can quickly load it up and play during those boring telephone conversations with you-know-who. Multiplayer (its best mode) compares more favourably, but Wii Sports Tennis is still a better choice due to its slightly more sophisticated control scheme, and less reliance on luck. Even at 500 Wii points it’s hard to recommend Family Table Tennis.

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