What do you get when you mix a classic tennis title, a decent RPG mode and a sprinkling of Mario? Mario Power Tennis. While many are familiar with the console sports games, the early handheld ones were differentiated by incorporating fully-fledged RPG modes – this Game Boy Advance classic being the most recent iteration in the Mario Tennis series to have one.
Within this mode, you play as a new recruit in the Tennis Academy and have to build your way up the ranks, defeating other students to become the best tennis player. While there you learn of several masked challengers who have defeated the champions of the academy and therefore decide that you must face them by improving your skills by challenging the Academy’s students and entering various tournaments.
As with most RPG games, this game features a variety of stats and a level system that increases with each successful match. With the stats, you can alter your character’s parameters, such as speed and serve, in order to finely tune them for you to use. There are also various mini-games to unlock, competing in which allows you to strengthen your Power Shots or unlock more to use. These can also be enjoyed separately outside of the game’s RPG mode.
The RPG mode itself is quite deep, with a lot of text and decent characterisation for all the NPCs you encounter – you’ll begin to care about them. It is incredibly well made, and well thought out.
The tennis gameplay is well refined and, frankly, a joy to play. It’s smooth, fast and will keep you coming back for more. There’s a quick play mode if you’re looking to get onto centre court as soon as possible, allowing you to select various characters and just play some tennis. Unfortunately, there’s no multiplayer possible in this game, which does cut a decent amount of its replayability. There are also separate modes to check your stats, as well as a glossary of terms.
The main issue with this game is one that many may not see an issue with. The Mario aspect of this game is a bit negligible. In the Free Play mode, there are only six playable Mario characters: Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Waluigi, Peach and Donkey Kong, ignoring classic characters like Yoshi and Wario. Despite this, there are 30 non-Mario characters to play as and/or unlock in the main game. In the RPG mode, the Mario connection is somewhat understated to being more of a hint and a cameo towards the end, which comes as a disappointment. It gives a bit of a feeling that the game was intended to be separate, but there wasn’t enough confidence in it as a standalone product without Mario on the packaging. Although it does add the special feeling when you eventually go to the Mushroom Kingdom, where you’ll meet and challenge Mario characters.
The graphics for this game are a bit hit-and-miss. On a TV screen, it does not translate well and the screen smoothing filter does absolutely nothing to alleviate this. It just looks blocky, and a bit hard on the eyes. However, on the Wii U GamePad, it is far more passable and looks closer to its source material, so it’s definitely a good candidate for Off-TV play. The sprites in RPG mode are well made, and it shifts to a pseudo-3D model style when you go into a tennis match, which is done seamlessly.
The sound is great. The musical tracks are catchy and you have authentic tennis sounds and classic Mario sounds as well. It all works well and creates a decent package.
Mario Power Tennis is a great game. The RPG mode is stellar and will take you a decent amount of time to complete, and Exhibition matches are great for the quick playing of tennis. There’s a wide range of characters to play as in them, albeit mostly non-Mario characters. If you take the game for what it is, rather than expect another jaunt through the Mushroom Kingdom, then you will enjoy it, but if you’re expecting a Mario-filled game, you will be disappointed. While it is now a single-player-only affair, it still remains worth your while.
Version Tested: Wii U
Review copy provided by Nintendo