Over the years Mario has proven his status as one of the sporting world’s most versatile celebrities. When not saving the Universe, he’s been having a crack at Karting, Football, Golf, Basketball, Baseball, and even competing in the Olympics! It’s no surprise then to see his Tennis career come back into the fray with a rework of the GameCube’s Mario Tennis… although it is a surprise to see that Mario still cannot shed that flabby belly!
Mario Tennis begins with quite possibly the longest and most absurd introduction to a Tennis game, ever- setting the tone quite appropriately. I’ll outline it as best I can: the usual Nintendo all-stars have entered in a Tennis tournament; Wario and Waluigi lose, get grumpy and plot revenge; Bowser helps them out with this; they get in shape and gatecrash the double’s final; bob-ombs go off in a Sum of all Fears moment, and, hey-presto- we have a Tennis game, somehow.
What I’m trying to get across here is that Mario Tennis is not your typical sporting title (I suppose the word “Mario” might have given that one away!) The core mechanics of Tennis are there, but so are a whole host of other zany features- from crocodiles attacking people, to giant hammers smashing the ball back across the court, to lightening bolts shrinking the players. It’s certainly not something the likes of Năstase or McEnroe would have been used to!
The courts add just a small part to this crazy depth: there are the typical grass, clay and hard courts you would expect, but along with these are Mario-universe-themed courts that are full of surprises- lava, ghosts, treadmills, you name it! There are various game modes too: you can have a ‘normal’ match, or opt to play one of the special modes where you must shoot though rings suspended above the net, or duke it out on court with power items. You also have the option to play one of the various mini-games, in which you can even paint a picture! One thing’s for sure, there is certainly enough content to keep everyone occupied.
Along with the bizarre courts and mechanics, comes a wide variety of Nintendo characters- each classified as either an all-rounder, power, speed, defensive, technical, or tricky player. These categories have a strong bearing on how the characters act: Donkey Kong, for instance, has power but no speed, Boo can spin shots wildly but lacks strength, and Luigi- the superior of the two brothers- is a jack-of-all-traits kind of guy. These sort of selections helps add further depth to the game when compared to Wii Sports.
The proving ground for Mario Tennis, though, is the gameplay. With pretty much only Wii Sports to compare to, Mario Tennis is a great improvement in the genre- despite a few nuances. At first, I was quite overwhelmed when attempting to learn all the motions for this game- forehand, backhand, topspin, backspin, lob-shots, drop-shots, power-shots, smashes, lunges, defensive/offensive power shots- not to mention the fact that you have to move your character around onscreen using the analogue stick. Some of the gestures are awkwardly specific too- I’ll be damned if I can suss out how to lob properly in the game- and it does make me question why Nintendo released this before the launch of Motion Plus.
It's apparent that accuracy has taken a hit in Mario Tennis. In the GameCube version, controls were easy to become a master of- this is certainly not the case on the Wii, where a sharp rise to the learning curve and slightly ambiguous control mappings have made the advance stages of the single player experience much harder. On the plus side though, the slightly rudimentary arm flapping allows for new people to pick up the basics and fend for themselves in relatively short order. This has been helped by the option to remove power shots (thankfully) and/or automate some of the more complex control functions- making the multiplayer game fun and suitable for everyone. I myself had an intense tiebreaker of a match with my housemates, who had never played Mario Tennis before- testament to the game’s accessibility… that, or my ineptness!
In terms of appearance, Mario Tennis is acceptable. The menus looked pixelated on my screen and I thought a bit more polishing could have been done, but the in-game graphics themselves were sufficient. The soundtrack was the typical collection of Nintendo noises, which fit in well with the game. No vast improvements were made from the GameCube version, but everything is satisfactory.
All in all, if you loved Wii Sports Tennis and still can’t get enough of it, Mario Tennis is a great investment. There are a lot of modes to get through, the controls work fairly well, and it’s a bash with the mates around. The only trouble is that it doesn’t feel like the mechanics have been properly refined- I was hoping for a bit more precision, and it leaves me wondering why Nintendo didn’t wait until the Motion Plus attachment was out first. Still, it’s good value for money and will help pass the time with the mates. Worthwhile, not essential.