by Tony Brattoli
The name “Mario Tennis” always sparks a feeling of nostalgia. Whether on the go, or sitting on your couch, the iconic starting music of your GameBoy Color blared out of the single front speaker. The title screen appeared in front of you as you gazed down with happiness that you had the newest sports game from Nintendo in the palm of your hands.
Normally, you would not associate a sports game with the genre of an RPG, but Mario Tennis had everything right. You really felt like you had control over your character and could level up and customize your stats to fit your needs.
Fast-forward to 2018 where we have a new console dominating the market. With updated graphics and gameplay mechanics, Mario Tennis Aces hits the scene. You start right away with the story mode, called “Adventure,” in the middle of a tennis tournament. Naturally, Mario wins, and Wario and Waluigi accuse him of stealing the victory from them. The winning prize racket is stolen by Wario and Waluigi and given to Luigi instead of Mario. Luigi turns into a shadowy, tornado-like creature then disappears without a trace. Peach and Daisy believe that the racket’s grip tape was to blame for wrapping up Luigi and taking control. Toad hints at knowing of a dark secret that lies within the island. It was once home to a prosperous Kingdom of Bask. Daisy and Peach instantly remember hearing about the Bask Ruins in the desert and explain that tennis was very popular in the Kingdom of Bask. The walls of the ruins are filled with paintings of people playing tennis. Among those paintings, there is one of a strange-looking, spooky racket floating in the sky with people bowing down to it as if it was controlling them. After learning this, Toad sets Mario and himself off on a quest to investigate the ruins. You eventually learn that there are 5 power stones hidden throughout the island and must find them before Wario and Waluigi do so you can defeat Lucien.. Just like Wario and Waluigi, Lucien was overrun with greed and stole/possessed the powerful racket. Wario and Waluigi were easy targets and fell right into Lucien’s grasp. As always with the Mario universe, the story is a bit silly, but does its job to entertain.
The Adventure mode starts off strong. The entire Bask Ruins is essentially a long tutorial which teaches you every mechanic available in the game. In terms of in-game tutorials, this is probably the best one I have seen in a very long time. You learn all of the different types of shots that are available in the game: lob, flat, slice, and topspin are the standard shots associated with the controller buttons. There are also more powerful shots called a Zone Shot and Special Shot. Once you clear the Bask Ruins, you can replay the two tutorial matches again at any time if you feel you need a refresher course in how to play the game.
As you make your way through the Adventure mode, you come across various scenarios, practice levels, and bosses. Some of these are quite challenging at first and you may find yourself having to replay them to get the hang of the “puzzles.” Once you go through a few of these, you will recognize the pattern. Each area of the island has very similar challenges, ranging from “clear all the targets within the time limit” to “defeat the boss within the time limit.” Like any Mario game, the bosses take three “hits” to defeat.
The RPG elements in this game are by far the weakest point. Yes, you do level up Mario and get new rackets with higher and higher stats, but there is very little if any customization available. You can change the order of your rackets so that when the racket in your first slot breaks, it switches to the next one assigned. There is no apparent way to choose which stats you want to upgrade or even cosmetic changes, such as different costumes. In addition, the entire campaign can easily be completed in a single weekend. Considering this is a sports game, the length of the campaign (and the fact that it has a single-player campaign) is fairly decent. There is very low replay value, however, unless you want to complete every single challenge on the map with a shorter time or level up Mario to the max level, which the value of is currently unknown.
The multiplayer is a completely different story. If you have been a fan of the fighting game genre, or are entirely new to this type of game, this is where Mario Tennis Aces truly shines. You can just as easily pickup the multiplayer mode coming from square one as if you were a fighting game pro. Yes, playing through the Adventure mode will teach you all of the mechanics and give you a leg up when playing online, but you do not have to complete it (however, you do unlock additional maps for playing local or online with friends). There are quite a few different modes available: Tournament mode is a bracket system, similar to most competitive online games. You face-off with a player and if you win, you go on to the next bracket, so on and so forth. There is an option for Online Tournament as well as COM Tournament. In Online Tournament, you can choose Standard Class, which has the standard rules, including Zone Shots, Zone Speed, and energy. Simple Class takes all of the special stuff away and you play with only the regular shots in the game: lob, flat, slice, and topspin. You can also view your Rankings, within the Tournament mode, compared to other players online. In COM Tournament, you play against AI on different courts that you unlock as you complete the tournaments. There is also Free Play, which you can enjoy online, with 1 or 2 players, Single-Console Play with up to 4 players, or Local Play which is 1 to 2 player ad hoc between two or more Switch consoles. Another local mode called Swing Mode allows for the use of the Joy Con controllers to physically swing at the screen, as if holding a racket, making use of the built-in motion controls.
The online play is quite compelling, fun, and very competitive. The single-player campaign is a bit short and lacks the true RPG elements most players were looking for. Overall, Mario Tennis Aces is a solid game from Nintendo and Camelot and I have enjoyed playing it. At $60, it is a bit steep for a sports game, but if you enjoy the fast-paced competitive fighting game-style gameplay, this is the one for you.