Mario Tennis review
Advanatge, Mario Tennis


Mario's a rather athletic, despite appearances that would suggest otherwise. Having butt-bounced his way around the Mushroom Kingdom (and other lands) numerous times it came as no surprise that he would turn his hand to sporting events. Kart racing became a huge success for him, and then golfing was also a major hit. Now it seems that Mario wants to take on the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom in the fine sport of tennis in what looks to be another promising sports title.

A key trait of Mario games has always been the accessibility of them, and Mario Tennis is no different in that regard. Moving your character around the court is as simple as tilting the analogue stick, but the real beauty of the simple controls is when you go to strike the ball. A and B are the only buttons used to hit the ball, where the combination of these determine the type of hit. A is top spin and B is slice, with double-tapping causing stronger variants of these shots. A then B will lob the ball high into the air, while B then A performs a slow drop shot that aims to lightly knock the ball just over the net.

Often you will find smashes to be key to victory, and this is a simple concept to grasp but not so easy to execute well. Pressing A and B together will perform a smash, but the position of your character is far more important with this type of shot. Sit yourself under the ball as it descends and you'll hit the ball with quite some force. Get it wrong and you'll hit a lot weaker, and in some instances may even run the risk of smashing the ball straight into the net.

Aiming is also an easy task. As soon as you press a hit button your character slows to a crawl (some movement is possible but it is very little). During this time you can tilt the analogue stick to aim your shot. The system usually accounts for the positions and rules so you'll rarely actually hit the ball out of play no matter where you're aiming. This may be seen as babysitting the player a little, but it does make things more accessible to other players.

The tennis action tends to follow the rules of the real game. There are one or two characters on either side of the net (depending on whether it is singles or doubles play). One side serves the ball to the other and then each side volleys the ball back and forth trying to get the ball past the opposition. However, the ball has to land in the court area first before shooting past the opposition to count as a point.

The scoring system used here will feel really weird to anyone not accustomed to the way tennis works. Rather than gaining singular points you get points to 15, 30 and then 40 for each point scored. Scoring four points with a minimum two points lead will win a 'game', but if both players reach the 40 mark then the match enters deuce. In this situation play continues as normal, but the next scoring player gains the advantage. Scoring again in this situation will win a game, but conceding a point will return the match to deuce.

Each match is made up of 1, 3 or 5 sets, and each set is made up of 2 or 6 games. Much like games, players must win a certain number of games with a margin of 2 games minimum (depending on the number of games in a set). If the set becomes tied (2-2 or 6-6) then the match enters a tiebreaker situation. Serves alternate between players and point scoring is more traditional, but it's not really much different from normal play and so is basically an extra deciding round.

The camera aims to be as friendly as possible to the player. You can choose from three camera modes. You can set it to stay on one side of the court, get it to change sides with you when characters change court or use a more dynamic camera angle (read: lower to the ground). The last one doesn't really offer a good view of the action, but it's nice to have the option of the other two.

Saving is also very friendly in this game. You can save at any point when the ball is not in play (mainly just before a ball is served) and the game will return exactly to that point. Considering how long some matches can go on for, this option is a blessing.

Should you choose to play with the computer then you'll be pleased to see that the AI of the game is rather good. There is a fair spread of difficulty settings that affect the intelligence of the character, with mistakes becoming rarer as the difficulty increases. Earlier opponents are easily fooled, but later ones will be more adept at returning the ball and skilled at putting the pressure on you. Thankfully this intelligence carries over to your team mate in doubles play, with the higher computer players working well to support you and actively determining where you are positioned so that they may better find a more ideal spot to guard.

There are some of the more annoying computer quirks in there though, like the fact that the computer is never fooled by a drop shot (ever) but these don't present themselves a whole lot so it's not bad.

Many of the big stars of the Mario universe are available to play as, plus some less well known characters, so there should be an ideal choice for everyone. Each character is assigned a 'class' that determines their play style. You have the power characters like Bowser who attempt to overwhelm with power, technique characters that rely on talented strikes to win and speed characters that excel at dashing around the court to return hits. Mario and Luigi take up the roles of the all-arounders, neither excelling or failing in any specific area.

The ones designated as 'tricky' are perhaps the most fun to use. The shots from these characters are a lot harder to counter due to how they curve around, but controlling these characters is also much harder. Watch as paratroopa and boo have difficulty in actually stopping when running for the ball.

The game offers a wealth of courts to play on. Initially there are four plain courts, but more special courts can be unlocked by playing through the game and meeting certain challenges. Each court affects ball speed and bounce in different ways but mostly won't feel too different from one another. The special courts are mostly designed with Mario characters in mind (like one set in an area similar to the Tower of the Wing Cap from SM64) but there is a problem with these special courts, which is that the ball can actually be rather tricky to see. In the middle of a frantic smashing contest, losing sight of the ball is the last thing you'll need.

There are five main game modes on offer. The standard exhibition is where you can go for quick plays. Here you can set all sorts of options in the game, such as the sets/games setup and computer difficulties. Multiplayer matches are also possible through this mode, which can make for some intense battles.

Tournament mode is the main single player game mode. Here you pick a cup to go after and then play through a series of 3 matches to win that cup. The difficulty and game/set numbers depends on the cup and match you're in. To be honest though, this game mode feels more tiresome than the other modes, especially when it comes to having to play through the same cup rounds with different characters to unlock the different game characters and courts. It just takes so long to get through, and gameplay does not differ from the other modes.

The Pirahna Planet game mode is more short lived than the others, but it does offer an ideal training option. You are dumped onto a special court with three pirahna plants on the other side. When the match starts these plants will spit out tennis balls at varying speeds and directions, challenging the player to return each ball. In total 50 balls are spat out, and returning all 50 is certainly very difficult.

The remaining two modes are an example of what separates this from any normal tennis title. The first is Ring Shot mode and the second is Battle.

Ring Shot depends on the number of players. The multiplayer game is more basic, where gameplay is mostly the same as normal tennis but where points are stored in a points bank as the ball passes through giant rings floating around the court. Whichever player scores a game point will also receive the points earned from the rings.

Single player offers a little more depth by presenting four different ring challenges. Match play has you playing a standard tennis match but trying to shoot through a certain number of rings before the match ends. However, since you can keep returning the scoreline to deuce then it's a bit easy to manipulate this mode. Ball has you shooting through rings with a limited supply of balls that are used up as the ball is knocked out of play.

Time and Point modes are quite similar, as both put you against the clock to reach a set target, but while Time provides a static point value for each ring Point mode offers different point values depending on the size of the ring (smaller rings give more points).

All four modes offer five structures challenges that increase the target score each time, and clearing all five opens the challenge option, where you are tasked with scoring as many ring points as possible before the ball is knocked out of play. This mode is a welcome change from the normal tennis and the differing positions of rings challenges the different use of hits. You can't really just spam the top spin here because you'll miss many of the rings by doing so.

Battle mode takes its cue from Mario Kart by throwing in weapons. Item boxes hover above the net, and hitting the ball through a box gives an item. Due to the pace of this game you will find that weapons are activated almost as soon as you get them just to keep up and the sheer number of weapons that can litter gameplay makes this a fast and frantic game mode. Banana peels get planted on the court, shells fire off and lightning bolts slow down the competition.

To make things even more challenging this game mode takes place on a special court that is suspended by chains above lava. It's impossible to fall off, but this means the court tilts depending on whether the players are standing. Like Exhibition, this game mode can also be played with multiple players.

There's a few other multiplayer-only game modes but they really aren't worth considering, as they basically act as cut-down standard tennis matches. For some odd reason it is possible for players to pick the same character in these modes despite not having that option in other modes, but aside from that there is nothing of worthwhile note about them.

The graphics are perhaps a step back considering the point in time this was released, somewhat resembling that of first generation N64 titles. The characters animate well with some nice looking winning stances, but the character models themselves look a little crude. By contrast the courts are rather well designed with some good detail and cool sideline features, even if the special court designs can make the ball hard to see at times.

The effects are pretty good too. The ball becomes engulfed in a light effect when hit with strong attacks and there are plenty of sparkles and flashes around the place. The setting is also bright and colourful, fitting in well with the Mario universe.

The music is pretty good too, presenting the usual collection of Mario-styled fantasy music one would expect from a title such as this. The sounds of racket hitting ball are good, with solid 'thwacks' eminating out of the TV speaker at each strike. Characters are also pretty vocal, with a lot of grunts and cries as play passes back and forth.

Mario Tennis is an enjoyable sports title that shows the kind of accessible title Nintendo wants to offer. Its gameplay is simple but fun, with a lot of options and some rather unique game modes that help to mix up the usual tennis action. Well worth a look if you're after a casual sports title.

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