Mario Tennis Open is one of those things that might be a hard sell to your friends, but for those that give it the chance, it will utterly consume you. The game play is some simple and addictive that it’s easy to lose days completing the game’s tournaments and mini-game challenges under the guise of short form gaming that continually has you bargaining for ‘just one more round’.
+Simple, addictive gaming.
+The bright, colourful cast of Mario characters that we’ve all come to know and love.
+Plenty of options for modifying your character, unlockables to collect/buy and challenges to pit yourself against.
-The traditional character-specific ‘super shots’ have been removed in favour of reaction-based skill-shots.
-3D really doesn’t add much, and its generally better kept to off (if you want to make a real go of things in the later levels).
As someone that would at least like to call themselves a hardcore gamer, I know the stigma associated with the title would lead people to believe that I should poop on ‘casual’ or ‘family’ oriented games, but the truth of the matter is that I have very fond memories of the Mario series of sports games. Mario Golf was the first time I got my entire family to play a video game together. With a couple of parents that couldn’t even learn how to bookmark a website with an hour of time at the computer and instruction via their ‘technically inclined’ son it was a hard sell. Everyone loved the simplicity and color of the game though, and it was eventually something that became a staple of our family nights.
So when I say that I enjoy the sports titles, and was legitimately excited that there was a new Mario Tennis game making its way to Nintendo’s latest handheld, the 3DS, I’m fully aware that there is some bias there. But you know what? That’s not necessarily a bad thing in my book, I’ve often heard it should be the ‘enthusiasts’ that handle the reviews and why not? They know it the more intimately.
I’m pleased to say that Mario Tennis continues the trend of providing a short, colorful, fun experience. It’s a skill-set that Nintendo has honed over their many, many years in the industry and still own the throne for. Everything that they do is clean, simple, and fun. Mario Tennis has changed up some of the features of the game, namely the skill shot system the characters use to lob fireballs and rainbows back and forth at one another, but have held onto the core components that made the title a staple in our family game-nights back when.
When I had played this game previously, at events like GDC, I had made mention of the fact that it seemed a little too easy on the players. It’s something that comes up a lot at trade-shows, because the game being represented has to appeal to a wide-scope of players, most of which are being drawn in to check things out, while it might not actually be something within their standard ‘wheel-house’. I’m pleased to say that the difficulty in the game does ramp up nicely as you progress, and even now I’m finding myself unable to regularly beat the ‘Ace’ level AI in the game’s single-player modes. Previous iterations of the franchise led me to believe that beating any character, at any difficulty level, was a simple as knocking the ball as far left, then as far right, as possible until they folded. It’s not as much of a viable strategy in Open, due to the fact that the AI is no slouch (at the higher settings) and will read predicable patterns, compensate, and, on the Ace setting at least, exploit the ever-loving-CRAP out of them.
I mentioned, briefly, the concept of the skill shot. Fans of the series may recall that in the other iterations, and even other sports titles, each character has a special ability that they could unleash on the court when certain requirements were met. In Mario Tennis Open, the abilities are universal, characters don’t get one special move each, instead the trick/special shots are scattered about the court randomly throughout the match. During your sessions you’ll see spots highlighted on the court, and if you can get your character to the location before the ball you can charge/unleash a trick shot (things like launching a fire-ball, a trick shot that swings in a wide-arch ‘round the side of the court, or a massive lob that bounces off the very back line of the court and then out). It’s a little more simplistic, and it keeps things fresh, though it does make me a little nostalgic for the way things used to be with the signature character ‘super moves’.
The tournament circuit, which would normally be considered the ‘core’ of the game, is quite short. There are four tournaments to start, which can easily be wrapped inside of a 20 minute train ride, that, once completed, unlocks a ‘star character’ and a new tournament. Basically a new set of four levels with an increased difficulty. But that’s it. Eight ‘levels’ to be cleared, and you’re ‘done’. You can of course head back multiple times with multiple characters and run the series over and over, unlocking new ‘star’ characters, and there is the ‘doubles’ mode that allows you to play with a partner and work through a 2-v-2 tournament circuit, but that’s about it. Thankfully Nintendo has done some work expanding the game’s additional modes.
Online play is of course added in, so you can play with friends local or global, but where things really get interesting is in the game’s mechanics for coin acquisition and spending. There are four modes inside of the ‘Special Games’ mode that each offer an opportunity to earn coins (which can then be spent in the Club House for additional character gear). Ring shot, which has you rally a ball back and forth with an AI partner while maneuvering your ball through a series of rings at the net for points, Super Mario Tennis, which is a recreation of Super Mario Land where you rally against the wall to clear obstacles while progressing through the original game, Galaxy Rally, where you rally back and forth with an AI partner, avoiding dropping your ball into the infinite emptiness of space while sections of the court vanish and as you collect stars, and Ink Showdown, where the name of the game is survival; all you do here is try to survive for as long as possible while a series of Piranha plants spit balls and/or ink at you. If you miss a return on an ink-ball your screen gets splattered/covered, making the subsequent rallies that much harder.
Once you’ve collected yourself a nice little bank-roll of coins in the game’s mini-game modes you can head over to the Club House, which is your opportunity to buy outfits, rackets, wristbands and shoes for your Mii that improve/alter its performance in the game. It’s a nifty little feature that will help you customize your character and there is a figurative ton of options for customization (which are unlocked through playing the game’s various modes).
While the concept that brought me into the world of Mario Sports isn’t what it used to be, our family unit is spread out across the province and no one, other than myself obviously, continued the trend of weekly gaming, the game is one that still brings me back ‘round time and time again. I’m a fan of the Mario series of sports titles, their knack for turning something (which is traditionally pretty boring) like Baseball or Tennis into something more exciting (via skill shots that ignite the ball into fire, or curve balls into massive wide-reaching arches) is a niche that I don’t think I’ll ever really grow tired of.
A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher.