Table Tennis is definitely more concerned with getting the core gameplay correct than it is with adding frills, which comes through in the game's relatively modest options. The offline game consists of four different tournaments, each one bigger and more challenging than the previous. You might be able to breeze through the first tournament with just the topspin shot, but the difficulty of the AI ramps up to a nice, tense challenge in the second tournament, and by number three you're going to be sweating each and every swing of the paddle. There seems to be some unique AI at work as well, with each opponent having his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and part of the challenge lies in finding the different techniques that your opponents are susceptible to. There's also one-off exhibition mode that pits you against either a CPU opponent or a second player. Unfortunately, all match types are limited to one-on-one table tennis, so there's no doubles play. The single-screen two-player matches work better here than they do in most tennis games, largely because there isn't as much ground to cover, making the backcourt perspective less of a handicap. The game encourages you to keep coming back to the single-player game with the promise of unlockable characters, costumes, and arenas.
For that matter, the game has a really well-balanced set of unlockable achievements to keep you going, which go from simplistic stuff like going through the game's basic tutorial, to genuine challenges like playing through an entire tournament in 14 minutes or less, to stuff like racking up 10-plus hours of gameplay time. Several of the achievements can also be had through different routes, though the game is purposely oblique about what, exactly, those alternate routes are. There's Xbox Live support, as well, with ranked matches, instant tournaments for up to eight players, and the ability to tweak a few match variables such as the number of rounds and the score needed to win. As much as it would have been nice to see a Virtua Tennis-style career mode, complete with a character creation system and crazy minigames, the gameplay in Table Tennis just feels so right that a short list of modes is easy to accept. A lower-than-average retail price helps.
The focused design of Table Tennis works to its advantage in other ways, though, specifically with regards to the presentation. There are 11 different prefab players for you to choose from, and you'd have a hard time finding player models in any other game that look and move more convincingly. Eyes gleam with life; shirts shift around as the players move; sweat beads up and glistens on the skin as the match progresses, eventually seeping through the fabric of the player's shirt. The animations themselves have a really natural, fluid look to them, as well, with different players holding their paddles in different ways and occasionally displaying unique little physical tics, though some of the transitions feel a little mechanical. They also manage to bypass the "uncanny valley"--that uncomfortable level of realism that's both too realistic, and not realistic enough--most of the time, though occasionally you'll catch an odd angle on a player during a replay that just looks...off.
The gameplay is so fast and furious that extended play sessions can leave your nerves completely shot.
For all the phenomenal detail that is poured into the players, there's not much else to look at. The different arenas you can play in definitely have their own unique atmosphere, ranging from a run-down rec center to the Chinese National Table Tennis Arena, but when you're actually playing, all you'll see is two players, a table, and a ball. The frame rate is usually rock-solid, though when it does dip it's quite noticeable, and it occurs seemingly for no good reason. Some games might put a premium on lots of background noise, but it seems like this minimalist presentation is beneficial to the pacing and intensity of the gameplay. Besides, the game's surprisingly crisp sound design provides plenty of its own distractions in the form of some distinct crowd noise. You'll hear specific encouragement from fans, nationalist chants, and the rumbling stomp of feet in the grandstands. There are also techno tracks that kick in when you get locked into a really serious rally. But the music can get pretty cheesy, so not everyone will enjoy it, because it doesn't quite fit with the game's otherwise-straight-laced tone.
Thanks in no small part to Rockstar's own Grand Theft Auto series, there is a trend in game design right now to constantly expand the scope of your game, a real "bigger is better" mentality. The idea of an open-ended game is fun, but there's also something to be said for focusing on a single task and executing it with incredible detail and precision, which is exactly what Table Tennis does. This is one of the most accessible and exciting pure action games to hit the Xbox 360 so far, and one that can be easily recommended to just about anyone.