Mario has starred in many sports games over the years, from golf, to basketball to the winter or summer Olympics. Not to be left out, tennis has been a game that Mario has dabbled in now and then. The first game was Mario’s Tennis released for the Virtual boy. Since then there have been a few more tennis games with the red-capped plumber. Given the series roots, it is kind if fitting that the most recent Mario Tennis game, simply titled Mario Tennis Open, has been released for the 3DS, Nintendo’s portable console with a 3D emphasis. I’ve been playing the game for the past week or so, and I feel that I am ready to share my thoughts with you. So, how does this newest Mario Tennis fair?
Many of Mario’s past sports outings have incorporated an RPG like environment where you explore, play, and level up. In Mario Tennis Open simplicity and accessibility are the key, so the whole RPG’ish feel has been thrown out the window in favour of simple modes, simple control, and a pick up and play mentality. The first thing anyone will notice is that Mario Tennis Open allows for a few different control schemes, focusing on the capabilities of the 3DS hardware. Players will find that the along with the traditional button pressing madness the 3DS’s touchscreen can also be used to perform all types of shots.
Taking it up a notch, if you really want to make this game even easier, Camelot supports the 3DS’s gyroscope. By holding the 3DS up your view switches from the traditional overhead view to just behind the shoulder and you physically move the 3DS to place your shots. Although this sounds difficult in theory, should you ignore the circle pad the game controls your character for you, so the only thing you need to focus on is touching the touchscreen for your shots. The game even suggests shots for you by highlighting the shot it thinks you should take. I found this WAY too simple, but I can understand what Nintendo and Camelot are trying to do here as they try to make this game even more accessible for the casual or younger gamers out there. That being said, traditionalists will not like this approach.
There are 12 characters available for you to play from Mario and Luigi, Bowser and Bowser Jr., to Princess Peach or Boo. You will find that each one has a strength for you to master. You can even play as your Mii, which add’s a 13th player for you to choose from. What is somewhat disappointing is that unlike past Mario Sports games is that there are no character specific special moves. Camelot has created what is called a “Chance Shot” for Mario Tennis Open. A coloured circle shows up on the court and if you get to it and manage to hold the corresponding shot button down long enough while in the circle you’ll do a special shot such as super curve or super topspin. It can get pretty crazy as you hit a super curve or lob only to have your opponent hit back with a super topspin, which sends you skidding backwards should you get in position to return it. I didn’t mind the inclusion of these “Chance Shots”, but it can become frustrating when the computer AI can continually return many of these shots over and over again in the later levels negating the use of such.
As a single player game, there is enough here to keep you busy, but not just a lot of depth as the game is strictly about tennis gameplay. You’ll find that you can play in singles and doubles tournaments, each with 8 specific cups for to win, as well as singles and doubles exhibition matches, and some neat little mini-games. In regards the latter, Camelot has added four specific mini-games, all which level up in difficulty as you complete them. Ring Shot has you trying to hit rings of various sizes and various points (the smaller they are the more points they are worth) as you try to reach a total point value in a certain time. Ink Showdown has you trying to hit a ball back across the net without having it returned. The odd time an ink ball will be launched at you, and if you don’t hit it ink will cover the screen. Galaxy Rally has you rallying with another player as the three panels of the court across from you move, and you have to place your shot safely on one of the three panels. Finally, Super Mario Tennis has you hitting a ball against a wall that actually has the original 8-bit Super Mario Bros. on the screen. You play the game by hitting coins, enemies and blocks as you navigate the level. It’s pretty cool. I think that most who play these mini-games will enjoy them, as they are a nice diversion from the rest of the game. I for one wish there were more mini-games as it could have added so much more to the overall experience of Mario Tennis Open.
As you play the various mini-games you will collect coins depending on how well you do. Of course the better you do, the more coins you are rewarded with. These coins can be redeemed in the in-game store for items that you have opened. As you play in tournaments, exhibition matches, and even online, you are rewarded with an item at the end of each match, even if you loose. These items are then purchased in the in-game store with the coins you have earned and can only be used for your Mii. Each item, or outfit, has a specific strength such as power, spin or move. How these items actually affect your character is a mystery though as you don’t have any gauge to indicate how the items/outfit actually improves your skill. This was a disappointing area for me as I wanted to really customize my Mii, but I didn’t know how anything was affecting my attributes to make me more competitive against certain AI players.
Mario Tennis Open allows for cooperative and versus play for up to four players. You can play locally, either with your own copy of the game or download play, and you can play online. I only played a few matches online given the game was not released to the public yet. What games that I did to play were relatively lag free and somewhat enjoyable. There is a problem with online play though, and something I hope gets fixed. Control is a major issue that affects the balance of play in such that the game allows your opponents use the gyro controls online. Given that the computer controls the movement, and players only have to focus on pressing the touchscreen for a shot, it is somewhat unfair as the computer is very adept at finding the right spot to go to return the ball. This makes the game unbalanced given that that the person using the simplified gyro-controls doesn’t have to worry about controlling the character on-screen, therefore taking away human error. It makes for an unrewarding experience, and something I hope is fixed in a downloadable patch.
Visually Mario Tennis Open is solid, but not overwhelming. If there is one thing that Camelot was able to do it was incorporate the world of Mario in this tennis game. Each court is based on levels from various Mario inspired games or characters. You’ll play in Mario Stadium, Wario Dunes, or DK Jungle to name a few and they manage to bring the world of Mario alive. Of course what would a Mario sports game be without the characters. From Mario, to Diddy Kong, to Daisy, all are recognizable and move around the court smoothly. Something that I was a little surprised with was that there were even special effects, such as lighting and particle effects. From the sun breaking through heavy jungle cover in DK Jungle, the flowing lava around and below the court in Bowser’s Castle, to the trail effects of your “Chance Shot”, you’ll find a little something special now and then. The 3D effects in Mario Tennis Open are not mindblowing, but the do work. They add just enough depth to the court and surrounding environments, but they do not add anything to the gameplay. The game also automatically turns them off when you use the gyroscope controls.
As for the sound, I have to say that like the visuals it too is a solid effort. Characters don’t speak much, if any, but they do have their recognizable grunts and groans throughout the match. You’ll also find that the announcer who updates you on the score during the match is very suitable for the job. Sound effects are pretty good too, from the sound of the ball off your racquet, the ball hitting the net as it just makes it over for a well earned point, to the sound your ball slicing the air with a well timed top spin, slice or flat shot, it is all there. Finally, music is very prevalent throughout the game, and is themed depending on what court you play on. The music for Peach’s Palace is Mario 64 inspired and upbeat and cheery, whereas the music for Bowser’s Castle is very foreboding and dark. It’s pretty cool stuff and helps bring the Mario universe alive, but in the end it is something that we’ve all heard before in a Mario game.
Overall Mario Tennis Open is an enjoyable experience, but it really is missing the depth of past Mario sports games as it ditches the RPG’ish feel in an effort to try to be just a tennis game. The simplicity that Camelot instills to make the game that much more accessible seems to take away from the what has made Mario Sports games so good in the past too. Add to this that the online play that can be unbalanced given the ability for players to use the simplified gyro-controls and you have a more another strike against it. In the end Mario Tennis Open is definitely an above average experience, but the omission of some staple gameplay elements, along with some frustrating AI in the later levels, takes away from what could have been; but don’t let this scare you away, as the game is still playable and can still provide you some entertaining Mario Tennis on the run.