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This review originally went live in 2014, and we're updating and republishing it to celebrate the game's arrival in Switch's Game Boy (Color) library via Nintendo Switch Online.

For whatever its name is worth, Mario Tennis doesn’t feature a lot of the red guy — at least at first. That may come as an initial disappointment to some who were drawn to the M-word. Now, if you came for the 'tennis' part, well, that’s a whole different story.

Mario Tennis will let you get into a game right off the ba—er, racket, if you wish, allowing a selection of courts and options for both singles and doubles play in Exhibition mode. A few Nintendo-character-based minigames are also available at your leisure and offer a good way to practice shots and reaction time.

The meat of the game, though, resides in the Mario Tour mode, placing you in the shoes of a promising new, non-Mario student at the Royal Tennis Academy. After choosing and naming a male or female character, then naming his or her roommate — and then after a rather long introduction for a portable title — you are free to engage in a variety of training games or take on opponents to move up the school’s ranks.

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Much like its club-based counterpart, Mario Golf, the game takes on an interesting RPG flavour in its treatment of building your character. Completing training challenges or earning victories in matches grant experience points that can be used to level up your own character or your roommate, who serves as partner in doubles matches. Each level gained comes with a chosen increase in one of four categories: Spin, Power, Control, and Speed. Each category contains its own stats that automatically rise with the category rank, but some consideration must be taken when choosing areas to strengthen.

Developer Camelot took a uniquely realistic approach towards balance here. Concentrating solely on power will come at the occasional cost of points in speed-related stats and vice versa. You may want to tip the scales, or you may want to spread points more evenly; the choice is yours.

Levels and stats do make a difference, as even some of the starting training exercises feel next to impossible without first powering up. Once the ball gets rolling, however, it only seems to pick up momentum, with more and more points coming in until your character becomes a powerhouse. It’s rewarding and addictive.

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The numbers have even more meaning since the controls for Mario Tennis are pleasingly responsive. Gaining levels isn’t compensation for a poor control scheme at all and feels very much like real physical improvement. Beginners will be able to pick up and play quickly, but there is plenty that can be learned in the form of different shots that depend on position, timing, and button combos. Picking these up will prove very helpful later on when the opponents start becoming less pushovers and more technically inclined.

The AI of computer-controlled characters feels as well tuned as the controls, with opponents steadily putting up more of a fight as you progress up the single and doubles ladders, providing challenge while rarely feeling like cheaters. Even your doubles partner, if kept decently levelled up, will prove dependable to the point that they will feel worthy of your actual trust. You may even find yourself cheering for your computerised compadre after they smash it in to end a particularly exciting rally.

The old method of unlocking Mario characters through a copy of the N64 version of Mario Tennis and a Transfer Pak was kaput in the 3DS Virtual Console release, with no alternative presented, which meant those respective characters’ minigames also weren’t available. Fortunately, the Nintendo Switch Online version has them unlocked by default, so Bowser, Wario, Waluigi, and Yoshi are all accessible from the off. Mario and Peach will show up later on in the Mario Tour for your taking, and aside from them, you also have Luigi, Baby Mario, and Donkey Kong.

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Not that they're really necessary to enjoy this game. Mario Tennis feels like a full experience even without the star power. The academy and its non-Mario patrons have a character of their own, now even more endearing as time has given the Game Boy Colour title’s bright hues and pixelated look a certain retro hipness. The music adds to the charm with chiptunes that know when to be pleasant or rousing.


Mario Tennis still provides an amazingly tight and fun portable experience with a skillful shot system and an engaging RPG-like motif. This early handheld entry stands proud in the Mario sports series as a real winner; rewarding, with plenty of depth. And so what if the Mario-ness of it all doesn’t register too much? He’ll just have to make do with platforms, parties, golf, baseball, football, every Olympic sport...

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