“Let’s-a go!” exclaims Nintendo’s multi-talented plumber, as you prepare to boot Mario Tennis Open.
Yet there’s a disheartened tone to his voice. For whilst the worldwide recognition of Mario as a brand can’t be understated, stalled Nintendo 3DS sales have seen the company release Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7 and Mario Tennis Open within the space of a year, not to mention New Super Mario Bros. 2 confirmed for August.
That isn’t to say that Camelot’s return to the Mario Tennis series isn’t any less anticipated, its last appearance being the reworked GameCube classic New Play Control! Mario Power Tennis on Wii, but what results is a game hollow of any expected ambition. Introducing well-considered design elements, but lacking the content to entice you to invest time to fully master them.
The modes offered will prove familiar, players able to engage within Tournaments, Exhibitions and Special Games. Across each, you’ll pit yourself against opponents on courts inspired by the Mushroom Kingdom and intergalactic locales, including as Bowser’s Castle, DK Jungle, Mushroom Valley, Peach’s Palace and Penguin Iceberg.
Tournaments grant the most challenge, individual Cups offering increasing difficulty ranging from Beginner, Intermediate, Pro and Master, which can be played either within Singles or Doubles variants. Success in the initial Mushroom, Flower, Banana and Champion Cups rewards you not only with the option to go up against Pro level AI opponents but also unlocks a further Star Open championship.
Exhibition provides more flexible options for one-off matches, with the ability to choose your opponent, skill level and the court, on which each has differing ball speed and bounce physics.
It is, however, Special Games that sprinkle that recognisable Nintendo genius, and these will be an aspect that most will frequently return to. Super Mario Tennis sees the player practice against a scrolling wall, on which the early levels of Super Mario Bros. are shown – hitting Goombas, collecting Coins and grabbing Mushrooms along the way.
Whereas Galaxy Rally tasks you with maintaining a steady volley as quarters of the opposing courtside are gradually removed or repositioned. Ring Shot targets accuracy, with players aiming their shots through rings that appear on the net, and Ink Showdown sees you return balls spat by Inky Pirahna Plants with ink splattering on the screen if you ever miss one.
In terms of control scheme, that adopted suits the Nintendo 3DS well. The Circle Pad used for movement and directing your shots, of which there are numerous types that can either be chosen by corresponding buttons or through use of the touchscreen ‘Shot Panel.’
It’s a step toward accessibility, yet complicates matters as you must select and hold the type of shot you want to make prior to the ball reaching your character. Those that become accustomed to coordinating such timing will find it perhaps easier to strategise, yet buttons prove more optimal. For me, at least.
During play there are five individually coloured shots available: Topspin (Red), Flat (Dark Blue), Slice (Light Blue), Lob (Yellow) and Drop Shot (Silver), each enabling you to adjust your tactics in an effort to catch your opponent off-guard.
Draw your opponent close to the net with a Drop Shot to then curve a Slice behind them, or try and score an ace by using Topspin to catch them unaware.
Power Shots, used previously, have been replaced with Chance Shots, coloured circles known as Chance Areas appearing sporadically on the court that, if you use the corresponding shot, will allow you to perform it will more elevated power.
Support for the system’s gyrometer is also implemented, holding the Nintendo 3DS vertically shifting the player into Direct Mode. Here, you play from a more dynamic third-person viewpoint with character movement being managed automatically. It’s a nice touch, clearly aimed towards the more casual crowd.
As with Mario Kart 7, customisation plays an integral role within the game. Playing within any mode will earn you Coins and unlock items, that may then be purchased from the Club Room to improve the performance statistics of your Mii character. These include character-themed racquets, tops and full costumes, with each influencing Power, Spin and Move parameters.
Online multiplayer support is welcome, although a distinct lack of modes immediately turns things sour. Whilst the Nintendo Network impresses with a smooth, stable service, you can only join friends in either a tiebreak or 2-game 1-set match. That said, the introduction of a human opponent, especially a friend, results in hilarity as you continually outwit each other necessitating crazy dashing across the court. It’s a shame that there just aren’t enough modes to maintain your interest for any significant period, though hardcore players will relish ranked play allowing them to climb the leaderboards.
Even StreetPass sees unimaginative use, with those you encounter allowing you to play against an AI-controlled Mii in either a StreetPass Match or Ring Shot.
The AI also proves inconsistent, loosening up in places to enable the player to claw their way back from defeat to then completely annihilate you within the next Game. In Doubles the friendly AI is useless, missing the ball, not performing Chance Shots, or not covering areas of the court that you aren’t in. This means that in the majority of instances you feel like you’re doing literally all the work, and making any victory feel far too hard earned.
Mario Tennis Open is a well-executed game geared toward short-burst play, yet fails to push itself. It is the lack of modes that undermines the entire experience, worsened by AI issues and rather basic multiplayer choices. Still enjoyable, but not capable of scoring the ace that most have been wishing for.