Mario Serves Up Another Set Of Tennis Love
I think, whenever reviewing a game like Mario Tennis Open, you’re required to start off by making some mention of the wide variety of Mario-branded games Nintendo’s put out over the years. There’s so many, you know! Man, that Mario isn’t just a princess-saving plumber, but he’s also a race-car driver, basketball star, pro golfer, boxing ref, and even a doctor who may or may not have an actual, valid license to practice medicine.
The reality behind that never-ending need to rehash that same comment over and over is simple: Nintendo makes good games. Even if you aren’t a hardcore fan of theirs, it’s an undeniable fact that the company cares about game development and cares about giving their fans good products; that’s been proven time and time again, even when venturing out beyond Nintendo’s core franchises. There’s also another reality: I don’t like Mario. Not as in the game series, or the concept of Mario and what he’s become for Nintendo—I mean, as in the character himself. So, while Nintendo loves to make him the star of everything under the sun—continually feeding his addiction for keeping the rest of the Nintendo roster cowering in his shadow—my enjoyment of games such as Mario Tennis Open comes in spite of their titular star.
That lack of enthusiasm for Nintendo’s mustachioed protagonist makes me happy—but, also, a little surprised—to see how Mii-focused Mario Open Tennis is. Unlike titles such as Mario Kart 7, your Mii is available as a character choice right off the bat—and it isn’t long before you’ll be unlocking new rackets or clothing items for him or her by playing the game’s various modes. There’s a huge amount of content to earn here, but it’s only ever for your Mii. Prefer to play as Mario, Daisy, or Bowser*? Sure, go ahead and do it—just don’t expect to ever use any of those unlockables for them, even if it’s nothing more than the variety of better tennis rackets. Initially, I wondered if this was to keep a certain level of balance to the game by having the Nintendo cast be set in stone in their stats, but from what I could tell, there’s never a way to explicitly ban Miis from being picked in multiplayer. It’s not a game-breaking decision or anything; it’s just a little odd.
What I’d complain more about, really, is the actual act of buying and equipping those new items on your Mii. Stats for each item are shown as pie charts—charts that not only aren’t exact in their presentation of the differences between two items, but also charts integrated into an interface which gives you no option for comparing those differences. Should you buy those stylish new shoes you just unlocked? That’s a question that takes way too much time and hassle to answer.
(*OK, seriously—is Bowser actually a bad guy? Sure, he keeps kidnapping Princess Peach, but at this point, I have to wonder if she isn’t letting herself get taken with how often that’s happened. And even beyond that, how is it that he keeps being invited to play tennis, or basketball, or baseball, or race go-karts, or whatever else he ends up doing with the Mario crew? Are the Mushroom Kingdom’s security forces so utterly useless that they can’t even kick Bowser out of a tennis stadium? And isn’t there any concern that he might kidnap Peach yet again in the middle of a tennis match with her? Does he have to sign some sort of short-term treaty in order to be allowed to play in the tournament? This is all very, very suspicious, if you ask me.)
What about the main attraction, then—the game of tennis presented in Mario Tennis Open? I mean, it’s tennis, you know? Hopefully, I don’t have to explain to you what tennis is, and developer Camelot has enough experience making Mario tennis games at this point that it’d be really hard for them to screw up. So, it’s unsurprising that they didn’t. Controls feel tight and responsive, a variety of courts are presented that offer different combinations of bounce and ball-speed settings, and the 3D effect—while more on the subtle side—really works well for a game like this.
Is it fun, though? Having played a variety of tennis games—both serious and more light-hearted—it can be very hard to make tennis sexy and exciting for those not into the sport. Some see it as little more than two-player Pong; while it kind of is that, it also isn’t. Games like Mario Tennis Open aren’t just about hitting a ball back and forth—they’re also about the mind games, the strategy, and doing things your opponent isn’t expecting. Having a well-rounded arsenal of options for returning the ball may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s here that some tennis games either don’t give enough of those options, or they don’t feel properly perfected. In this regard, Camelot’s done a great job with Mario Tennis Open—the six available shot types all have their place and their uses, and when you get two players who can keep up with each other, matches can provide an intense experience.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Mario title if it didn’t provide some sort of twist on the tried-and-true elements of the sport it’s based around, and the first of Mario Tennis Open’s major gimmicks is Chance Shots. The game includes six color-coded shot types, and while playing, a color-coded Chance Shot area may appear on the court. If you return the ball from inside of that circle using the shot type of a matching color, you’ll perform a powered-up version of that shot. You perform those shots in one of two ways: either by pressing the appropriate face button (or button combination) or by pressing the color-coded buttons on the touchscreen.
Chance Shots are a way to help give the game a better sense of variety, and they indeed do that. As well, while they may seem to initially throw off the balance of multiplayer matches, they offer the chance to go back to that idea of playing mind games. You don’t have to bust out a powered-up flat shot while standing inside that purple marker—you can instead go against your opponent’s expectations and serve up a completely different type of shot they won’t be ready for.
And yet, even with the added layer that Chance Shots give to Mario Tennis Open’s core gameplay, I kind of wish Camelot had gone even crazier. Other than background themes and minigames (which I’ll get to in a moment), there’s very little Mario (the series) in Mario Tennis Open. As somebody admittedly new to Mario’s adventures in tennis, I wanted to see a bit more fun on display. Why not mushrooms to make me bigger (thus allowing me to cover ground easier), or forcing me to avoid a bouncing turtle shell every now and then? Something to remind me that I’m playing a Mario tennis game, and not just a tennis game with a Mario skin.
Another new 3DS-specific gimmick is Dynamic View. If you hold the 3DS upright, you’ll get a third-person, forced-2D camera that follows your character around more (and allows for more camera control via the 3DS’ gyro sensors). Then, if you tilt your 3DS down to hold it more flat, you’ll go back to 3D and to a more traditional tennis-game camera angle. Dynamic View is—well, weird. Personally, I never found it of value to my play experience, and I preferred turning it off and playing with the standard camera and 3D support. Still, I always prefer having an option versus not having it—so I’m glad that Dynamic View is there for anybody who may find themselves making good use of it.
Single-player in Mario Tennis Open is a relatively small selection of options. You can play in a series of bracket-style tournaments (singles or doubles), you can set up an exhibition game (again, singles or doubles), or you can play one of the included Special Games. Here, you can try your hand at hitting the ball through appearing rings, or rally against a trio of ball-spitting Piranha Plants. The true star, however, is Super Mario Tennis—where the challenge is to play through stages from the classic Super Mario Bros. using your tennis ball to break bricks, collect coins, or stomp Goombas. It’s an exceptional amount of fun, and I wish Mario Tennis Open had featured more enjoyable diversions like this.
The problem with the game’s single-player options are much like actual tennis itself: You feel like there could be more to the experience. The same can even be said for Mario Tennis Open’s multiplayer offerings. Single-cart local multiplayer is thankfully present, and online options are available, but Internet support comes down to little more than the ability to compete in standard matches. There’s no option for getting any sort of online tournaments going, and the strides Nintendo made in Mario Kart 7 in terms of letting players create online communities is completely absent.
As a game for those looking to enjoy the fast-paced action that tennis can provide, Mario Tennis Open is quite satisfying. The problem is, as good as that core is, there just isn’t enough built upon or around it. From any other company, Mario Tennis Open would be an enjoyable and polished attempt; from Nintendo, this feels more phoned in than I’d like to see. There’s very little wrong in what Mario Tennis Open does, and if you want a great tennis game, then you probably won’t be disappointed. Instead, my disappointment comes in what Mario Tennis Open doesn’t do.
SUMMARY: For those looking for a well-crafted, enjoyable tennis game, Mario Tennis Open will leave you satisfied. For those looking for a great Mario tennis game, you’ll probably be left wanting more.
- THE GOOD: Looks good, plays great, and the game’s Mii integration works wonderfully.
- THE BAD: Feels like a student who was happy going for a B- instead of an A+.
- THE UGLY: The adoration Peach gets when Daisy is clearly the superior princess.
Mario Tennis Open is exclusive to the Nintendo 3DS.