Lego Ping Pong

Against all odds, there are now two good games on the Xbox 360 that are not called Oblivion. The games are just well executed and fun. They are small and simple pleasures in a sea of large scale next-gen complexity.

The two games are Table Tennis and Lego Star Wars. Table Tennis comes from Rockstar games, of GTA fame. The game is pretty simple. You make a character, you play in tournaments. When you win, you can buy clothes. When you lose, you play over again until you win.

The “tennis” part of the game is pretty easy. To return shots you hit one of the four buttons on the gamepad which will spin the ball one of four ways. You can also try to place the ball using the left stick as you hit it. In theory you should use the various spins to counter the spin on the ball as it is hit to you. This part of the simulation was not that true to life though. It’s not that hard, for example, to hit top spin against backspin, even though in real life that’s a tricky shot.

You play matches against a series of characters, each of whom has a well defined and almost predictable style. One may hit the ball impossibly fast, but have no way to deal with repeated returns and soft shots. Another might not have as much power, but very good spin and accuracy of placement. You task is to figure out how to use the shots available to you against the opponent until you can win easily. It’s like a simple fighting game, but without the weird moves that require dozens of button presses. This makes it easy to pick up and play, especially if you are old and slow.

What stands out about this game is not the depth of the gameplay or the volume of the content. What is fun is the surreal presentation Long rallies are rewarded with thumpy techno music and off-beat lighting effects. It’s ping pong on a dance floor. This game would be at its best head to head with two human players, and the online should be fun, but I could not actually find anyone to play with, so I can’t say. Too bad.

Lego Star Wars 2 is also a great game to play with two controllers. I played the first one on the PS2 with my son, who was really too young to know what was going on, but loved watching Lego people fall off cliffs.

The sequel recreates the same design sense and off-beat humor as the first game, but follows the narrative arc of the good movies. Lego Jedi wielding light sabers just doesn’t get old, unless you are thinking about it too hard, like this guy.

The Xbox 360 renders the shiniest Lego Blocks yet seen in a video game. There are depth of field effects, particle effects, reflection effects and explosion effects, all of which are enough to create occasional frame rate problems. They took a game where the characters are low-res Lego Blocks and made it slow on a machine with so much CPU and GPU power that it can melt lesser TV stands. Truly we live in retarded times.

This sort of idiocy aside, you have to pick up this game. There is a lot to do, and many reasons to run around with your Lego person and swing a light saber. You can even record your achievements on Xbox Live. I’m looking forward to the free play as Darth Vader, who truly comes into his own as a character when rendered as black Lego blocks.