The Mario Tennis gameplay we love. If only there was more of it.
After skipping the Wii and Nintendo DS, Mario Tennis is finally making its grand return on the 3DS. After the success of Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7, Nintendo has been quiet on the 3DS front, but they’re finally backing it up, with another classic Nintendo franchise that is sure to do well.
What Mario Tennis Open Got Right
Mario Tennis is back - I’m so happy. Mario Tennis has been one of my favourite Nintendo spin-offs since it taught me the rules of the sport on the Nintendo 64. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen Mario on the court much since. It only spawned three sequels, and nothing new on the DS or Wii.
That’s all behind us now, as Mario comes out of retirement and takes to the court. It’s been seven years since we last saw the Nintendo cohort pick up a racket, and for most of us, that’s seven years too many.
Simple yet addictive gameplay - Mario Tennis Open retains the simple pick-up-and-play gameplay the series is renowned for, whilst still offering a deep and addictive experience. The gameplay is more or less how it was back on the GameCube, but there wasn’t a massive need to change anything.
A number of Nintendo icons take to the court, along with your Mii, to compete in a series of tournaments. Each player has his or her own strengths and weaknesses that are consistent with those in other spin-offs. Bowser, for example, is powerful but slow, Yoshi is quick but weak and Mario is the perfect all-rounder. Your Mii, meanwhile, just looks like an idiot and makes awkward grunts.
Buttons or touchscreen - I was curious as to how Nintendo would make use of the touchscreen. They could have made each screen one side of the court, but that was never really feasible as it would have utterly ruined timing due to the brief second when the ball is transitioning between screens.
Instead, they’ve ignore my ill-conceived bickering, and done something useful. Each shot can be instigated by pressing an icon on the touchscreen or by hitting the corresponding button -- or buttons, in the case of lobs and dropshots. As the 3DS places more emphasis on shot selection than ever before, each shot is also matched to a colour. By standing in the colourful rings that appear on the court and charging up its accompanying shot, you’re far more likely to execute a winner.
It works well for the most part, as it gives less experienced tennis players a reason to pick top spin over raw power. You still have to consider your opponents, however, as a dropshot to Boo is never going to reap rewards, even if it’s the suggested option. For those of us with subpar memories, the colour for each shot is also mapped to the touchscreen and only a quick glance away.
Local Multiplayer - Open includes single-card local as well as online multiplayer options. Local is where the fun is at, as Mario Tennis is a game best played old school.
Online is a mixed bag, but that could well be because the game isn’t out yet. I had real trouble finding a match, and when I did, it suffered from some pretty serious lag. However, when it does come out, we will be able to play with people in our region. Ignoring that, it still doesn’t look like it’ll rival Mario Kart. There are no online leaderboards or statistics to be seen, and it’s lacking the community integration.
Mini-games - The mini-games add a few more minutes to the rather short single-player and mix things up enough to remain relevant. There’s the classic “hit the ball the through the rings” and a rather interesting concoction that has you hitting a ball against a wall to play through the original Super Mario Bros. The mini-games are required to unlock new items for characters and your Mii, but most of these are arbitrary at best.
What Mario Tennis Open Got Wrong
Doesn’t last long - The biggest problem with Mario Open Tennis is its lack of content. Anyone who has played before will breeze through the first few cups, and you have to finish the first four to unlock Pro CPU mode for some sort of challenge.
Meanwhile, the court selection is disappointing. There are some different designs, but they don’t really mean much. Back on the Nintendo 64, different surfaces had a major bearing on the gameplay, but on the 3DS it’s hardly even noticeable.
Gryo mode is rubbish - For reasons beyond comprehension, Mario Tennis Open plugs its awful gryo sensor mode until you turn it off. Someone at Nintendo walked up to his boss and said “I’ve got a terrible but unique way to implement the 3DS’s useless motion control,” and he approved it, when he should have said “Johnson-San, GTFO of my office”.
With it turned on, holding your 3DS low will produce the normal camera angle that one would expect from Mario Tennis. If you hold it upright, however, the angle changes to more of a third person over-the-shoulder set-up. Camera angles should never be determined by how you’re holding the 3DS. In this mode, character movement is handled for you, so you can use the C-Pad to focus on shot selection. Again, this isn’t great, and will probably disengage when you maneuver your hands for comfort anyway.
3D is a let down - Nintendo recently said it wasn’t going to push 3D in games that didn’t need it; Mario Tennis Open is one of those. It makes the experience considerably worse, as it adds nothing, yet has the potential to distort everything if your eyes lose focus.
The Final Verdict
Mario Tennis Open is fun, but as a massive fan of the series, a little disappointing. The gameplay remains largely unchanged, which is the most important thing, but the singleplayer component is significantly reduced compared to previous offerings. What we have is very good, with tight controls, decent visuals and a few mini-games to change the pace. At this stage I can only assume that local play will be the better option for multiplayer, as online isn’t populated, but it’s lacking the features that made Mario Kart 7 one of Nintendo’s best online games. Fans of the series will enjoy it, but I only wish there was more of the singleplayer.
By Ben Salter - Bio