Mario Tennis Aces is the latest release in the long-running Mario Tennis series, which first launched on the Virtual Boy, of all things. It’s exactly what it says on the tin – it’s tennis with Mario in it; and by Mario, I mean everything that you’d expect from the plumber – flashy special shots, jumping around, and lots of wahooing. In other words, it’s not the most realistic tennis simulator.
The last entry in the series for the Wii U, Mario Tennis: Grand Smash, was as troubled as the console it launched on. It was a flimsy affair, beleaguered by a complete lack of any game modes outside of a basic versus mode. To put it into perspective, you couldn’t even set up a tournament.
Camelot, the developers, then, had a lot to make up for. The launch material for Mario Tennis Aces was extremely promising indeed – the most notable announcement was that we were getting a proper campaign mode with cutscenes and the lot, and what seemed to be a return to the excellent story mode which was in the Game Boy Advance version. Mario Tennis Aces, then, is a game that I really wanted to enjoy. Unfortunately, whilst it is enjoyable, it’s not a great deal better than it’s Wii U predecessor when it comes to content.
The story mode, much featured in the trailers for the game, is your main draw when it comes to single player content. The affair starts out amusingly enough. After winning a tennis tournament, Mario bumps into Wario and Waluigi, who are acting like eviler pricks than usual. They have a dodgy mystical tennis racket that they’re trying to give away to Mario as a prize. The plumber doesn’t want anything to do with it, but Luigi, also on the scene, decides that he wants a bit of it. Cue the tennis racket possessing him and getting up to all kinds of evil tennis shit, leading Mario to embark on a quest to collect five MacGuffins to rescue his brother from the evil tennis spirit.
Basic, silly stuff then, but that’s absolutely fine. It’s all framed well and the cutscenes are pretty slick, to be honest – as are the graphics and sound on the whole. What you’re really here for though is the gameplay, and I’m happy to report that it’s absolutely solid. It’s everything that you’d want from a tennis game – with a lot of daft piled on top for good measure. Speaking of mechanics, each button is assigned to different tennis shots – you know, slices, lobs, drop shots, and the rest. Each of these moves can be charged, too – if you can anticipate where the shot is going to land, you can hold down the appropriate button in order to give it a good smash when the ball finally lands.
On top of this, you also have access to a few special moves, which are all tied into an energy meter. This meter can be used by four different moves – zone speed, zone shots, special shots, and trick shots. Zone speed allows you to slow down time, meaning that you can better anticipate an incoming ball. This is necessary for tracking down the extremely fast zone shots, which you can trigger by pressing R when you’re stood in a spinning star on the court. These smash the ball lightning quick, and can damage your opponents racket if they mess up the timing. Special shots are similar, though they require full meter and can be done anywhere in the arena. Trick shots, for the most part, are used to quickly get you from one side of the court to the other, if your opponent is about to blind side you.
As I just mentioned, rackets can be damaged – which means that they can ultimately be destroyed. You have a finite amount of them, and if you break them all, then the game is over, giving your opponent the win regardless of where the score lies – in other words, it’s a tennis ‘KO’. Whilst it sounds daft at first, it does add an extra layer of tactics to the gameplay. Should I try and block that zone shot, or should I just let my opponent get the point so that I don’t bust all of my rackets? With the addition of all the meter and the special shots, too, it means that there’s a wide variety of responses that you can make to any given move that your opponent might muster up. It’s cerebral stuff, and it’s absolutely fair that the game has received so many comparisons to fighting games.
So, it’s a remarkably solid tennis game. The gameplay is tight and thoughtful, deep without being impenetrable. The issue lies, once again, with the lack of content surrounding the excellent base gameplay.
The campaign is a woefully short affair, coming in at about six hours or less. You get a mixture of actual matches and tennis themed mini-games, like hitting so many targets within a short space of time. It’s decent enough, and it has a fair difficulty curve to the whole affair.
This would be fine, except the campaign could’ve easily have been set up to be longer – or even infinite. For each level played, win or lose, Mario gains experience, levelling him up and increasing his base stats. You can also obtain new racquets for beating special matches, which alter your stats further. When all is said and done and the credits have rolled, though, none of this actually means anything. You can’t take the levels or racquets earned over to multiplayer for some bizarre reason. Which is a shame, because the multiplayer could really do with some form of progression and customisation to it, both for the sake of stat tweaking and general aesthetic. There’s zero post game, too – the only thing you can do is replay story matches that you’ve already won. It would’ve been nice to have repeatable challenges that got more and more difficult as your levels and stats rose.
Or, you know – take these mechanics over to multiplayer. Multiplayer is sorely missing any sort of progression. You can compete in single matches or tournaments online. Competing and succeeding in tournament matches earns you ‘tournament points’, which can’t be spent on anything. Instead, they’re totted up over a month. The player with the most points receives some kind of online kudos, a tweet or whatever. If you’re down for that, then fair enough – but I’m not stupid enough to believe that anyone other than some prick who has 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to play this crap is going to top the leader board. A level system, which could be tied into cosmetics, too, would at least help to feel like you’re gaining something other than points for a tournament that you’ll never, ever win.
Also, as seems to be the usual case with Nintendo Online – at least for me – the stability of the servers is absolutely garbage. Prepare to see your characters stutter around the place like you’re watching a shite stop-motion video on YouTube. Out of the few dozen matches that I’ve played, I’d say less than ten of them were stable affairs – and that’s using the word stable generously.
The multiplayer lacks game modes, too. The most egregious omission being the complete and total inability to play a regular tennis match split-screen. You can only play first to seven – no traditional tennis sets. I started this review out by shitting on it, but even the incredibly slim Ultra Smash had this option baked into it. I can forgive a lack of ‘silly’ tennis modes – as much as they would be appreciated, being that this is a Mario game and all – but the inability to play a traditional tennis match split screen is absolutely shocking.
Going back to the lack of customisation, this is unfortunately compounded by what feels like a lack of variety between the games sizeable cast. There’s plenty of characters to play here, with more to be added as the months go on – but they all feel so similar. Every character’s special move has the same results, it’s just a different animation proceeding it. Every character controls the exact same way, with little but trick shots altered from character to character. The roster is split into types, like ‘speedy’ or ‘tricky’ but outside of that, it can be difficult to see differences. Some characters have more wind-up on their swing than others, some move around the court quicker, but it’s hard to make a proper differentiation between power characters like Donkey Kong and Bowser, or all-around characters like Daisy and Mario. I’m sure that there are dozens of minutiae differences between the various cast members, but it’s difficult to pick up on these without playing each of them individually for hours at a time.
So, assuming that you buy this game, there’s slim pickings on the ground in terms of content. To summarise – there’s a six hour campaign. An offline and online tournament mode, the latter of which is just a monthly competition for who can stomach the game the longest. And, for the cherry on top of a extremely flat cake, you have a split screen multiplayer mode where you can’t play traditional tennis. Is that really worth £49.99 / $59.99? Absolutely not – from where I stand, honestly, it’s barely worth half of that.
It’s impossible to say that the gameplay isn’t fantastic. It’s a remarkably enjoyable tennis game – though it ought to be, considering how long Camelot have been at it. There’s been little learned here from the past iteration, however. It’s a contentless, hollow affair, let down by a lack of basic game modes and a tragically samey roster. For my money, I’d rather have fifty quids worth of something else, especially in today’s world where more compelling titles can be purchased for a fifth of the price.
If you’re absolutely mad for tennis and all you really want to do is play laggy tennis matches online until the cows come home, then Mario Tennis Aces is for you. For any other tennis, sports, or Mario fan, though, I’d say wait for the inevitable price reduction. There’s nowhere near enough here to justify the lofty asking price.
The two best things about this game, for me, are the fact that you can play Chain Chomp – and the fact that we figured out the size of Luigi’s cock via promotional material. And when that’s your one two punch, you’d be better off buying Shantae or something.
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Unlike more fortunate folk, I dumped £49.99 of my own money on this, so you can rest assured, the review above is unbiased.
If you want to buy this game and you live in the UK, you can help me out by buying it off Amazon through this here link. This’ll get me some pennies, which makes me happy. You have a new game, which makes you happy. We’re all happy.
And no, I don’t do scoring.