Mario’s Tennis does exactly what it says on the cartridge. It takes Mario and six other characters and places them in a Tennis game. Singles and doubles matches are available as either one-off matches or a Tournament, and standard tennis rules apply.
A launch game in Japan and the pack-in game for the Virtual Boy’s North American release, Mario’s Tennis was (back in the day) probably most people's first Virtual Boy experience, so it's obvious why it needed to show off the system's capabilities more so than most other Virtual Boy releases.
In terms of gameplay, it handles like any other tennis game you might care to mention. Movement is controlled via the left-hand d-pad and the two action buttons offer a variety of different shots. The controls are simple and responsive, meaning that the shots performed are the ones you intended. Of course a lot of tennis games manage this, but what this game does differently is use the Virtual Boy’s 3D effect to give a real feel of the court’s depth. When you are both getting ready for a serve, your opponent really does seem a great distance away.
Having selected your type of match you can then adjust the difficulty and choose between one or three sets. You then select your character (and partner if you’re playing doubles) and proceed with your match.
Aside from Mario, the other characters deciding to give tennis a try are Luigi, Princess Toadstool, Yoshi, Toad, Koopa Trooper and Donkey Kong Jr. The instruction booklet explains how all the characters vary but although you will find certain ones provide more of a challenge than others, playing as them is a different experience. There are some obvious differences - for example, Toad and Koopa Trooper can dive to reach some shots - but for the most part you will find surprisingly little to separate the characters.
Having only seven characters unfortunately makes the tournaments quite short and it's possible to win the singles tournament after only three games (and the doubles after just two).
Unlike later entries in the Mario Tennis series, this game does not feature extra powerful shots or “gimmick courts”: it is simply bog-standard tennis. It does it well but don’t be expecting anything other than a regular tennis game that happens to feature Mario characters. Following each match you are presented with a stats screen so you can see how well (or badly) you have done.
Camera movement is smooth and stays at a fixed distance from your character. The character sprites on the player’s side of the net are well drawn and possess a range of facial expressions reacting to the point that they may or may not have just won. The 3D effect works really well as you move around with the changing distance between you and the net, the ball and your opponent giving you a real sense of the size of the court. Get too close to your opponent however and you will see that they look like a cardboard cut-out – and a heavily pixelated one at that.
A tennis court is just a tennis court, but Nintendo attempt to make things a little more visually interesting by having a selection of backgrounds that appear in the different matches you play, so you can look at pipes in one match and hills in the next. Lakitu (strangely not animated) keeps the score and sometimes something else will appear in the sky such as birds, blimps or fireworks.
There are a few different music tracks that play during the game and they all sound good. As you would expect from a Mario game it’s upbeat and catchy. Some of it is perhaps a bit too “beepy” but as the music changes within each set (not just match-to-match) you don’t get chance even to consider getting sick of it.
There are several sound effects for the different shots you can perform. They are not realistic but appropriate, with the smash sound effect being particularly satisfying. Perhaps the best use of sound though is when you miss your shot and you can hear the ball slowly bounce behind you.
The difficulty of the game is well judged with the easiest setting being perfect for getting used to things as you try out just how far your lobs and volleys travel. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it all, selecting one of the higher settings provides more of a challenge.
Despite only having two modes, the game is surprisingly replayable. The doubles mode adds a bit of unpredictability to things as you’re relying on a CPU character to pick up some of the shots. What would have really have extended the game’s life though is a two-player mode. Of course (outside of the homebrew scene) a Virtual Boy link cable was never produced but it’s still something that is greatly missed: a tennis game that doesn't offer the opportunity to play against a friend feels wrong, somehow.
The small character roster makes the tournaments laughably short but this is a solid, if simple, tennis game. Good music and graphics combined with the excellent 3D effect of the court ensure that Mario’s Tennis is an excellent introduction to the Virtual Boy, plus it's cheap and easy to find these days. If only Nintendo had released that link cable, though...
Great review. The lack of a two player option really kills this for me, but I guess the developers kinda had their hands tied. Why Nintendo didn't launch the Virtual Boy with a link cable in the box (as was the case with the monochrome Game Boy) I'll never know. The machines had the EXT port so I can't imagine why the link cable never saw the light of day; I guess once those day-one sales figures limped in, Nintendo lost all heart!
I've actually been thinking about buying a VB lately, just because of the legacy it left us. If i do, this'll go nicely. Great review Dave.
I'd certainly recommend it - it offers an experience you simply cannot get anywhere else.
(Outside of a TomyTronic 3D, of course.)
I looked everywhere for a link cable back in the day. I thought since it was mentioned in the instructions that it must be out already, so I was very sad when it wasn't available anywhere.
I like these retro look backs. Good read.
I don't like the fact that every thing on the VB is in black and red. Nice review btw.
The DSi really needs a VC.......
I used to love Mario Tennis on the VB. The 3D effect was surprisingly effective in this game, giving you the distinct impression that you were looking over a wide-open court. Since I didn't usually get the headaches that most people complained about, I always found it comforting to boot up Mario Tennis and "check out" from the rest of the world. It was like visiting another place where no one would disturb you.
The VB really was underrated. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Nintendo had put some real muscle behind it rather than seeing it as a stop-gap between the SNES and the N64. (Of course, then they might have wasted a lot of money and never seen a return, ultimately causing the company to fail. So maybe it's better if we don't know. )
My eyes. The nausea....
Oddly enough, I thought the VB was fun to try out in stores. (including this game, but I mostly remember Wario) Then again, it was an ideal setup with the viewer on an eye-level shelf. Playing the console in a real-world situation was much more likely to induce vertigo or inflict spinal injury.
I want to play the VB Wario Land; please do a review of that game! I remember playing it for like fifteen minutes or so when I was in 9th grade. Headache-inducing, yes, but there is no reason why Nintendo can't emulate the Virtual Boy on a standard TV screen with a pair of Red/Cyan 3D Goggles
I've gathered from reading past comments that the virtual boy could give you a headache or something? What was the go? Was it physical discomfort from the headset, or did the intensity of red light get to you, or did the eye set have some horribly slow refresh rate or something?
@timp29 - The Virtual Boy had to be adjusted so that the lenses were the correct distance apart for each person's eyes. Most people failed to adjust the distance properly (or didn't understand how) and ended up with headaches caused by a not-quite-right 3D effect.
This game was pretty fun. A friend of mine had this and Warioland for the VB. Warioland was incredible.
"Unlike later entries in the Mario Tennis series, this game does not feature extra powerful shots or “gimmick courts"
Actually I prefer that in my Tennis games. I like the Mario look, but I prefer Wii Sports Tennis gameplay
I never played a VB. So, is everything really redscale on the system?
The advertisement video is going crazy on me o_O;
Anyways, this was a fun game of tennis back in the day before the 64 version ever came out.
A VB Mario Tennis would be awesome on the 3DS
If the VB games come to the 3DS VC this will be one of the first games I pick up.
Hope we get VB games on 3DS
Fun fact: Birdo was supposed to appear in the game, but was left out. Reason for this is unknown.
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