Over the years, Mario and his pals have proven to be the most outgoing video game characters in existence. When everyone’s favourite portly plumber isn’t saving his presumed girlfriend from dinosaur danger, he’s out on the race course, teeing up balls on the links, or becoming a superstar in another sport’s confines. Tennis, which has been a favourite of Nintendo‘s since the 64 bit era, is our digital friend’s game of choice now that warmer weather has come to greet us. As per usual, he’s joined by a familiar cast of friends and foes, all of whom wish to become the Mushroom Kingdom’s racquet guru in Mario Tennis Open for the Nintendo 3DS.
Like most of the crew’s colourful sporting endeavors, Mario Tennis Open is devoid of a storyline. After all, your goal isn’t to save a princess, defeat invading aliens or anything of that sort. Becoming a crowned champion is simple, as all one must do is win. There are four individual tournaments, with variations based on difficulty and game type (singles or doubles). Once a player has completed all four of one type’s events, he or she will gain access to its pro difficulty tournaments. Those add extra challenge, along with new courts of varying types.
Tennis is a strategical game, but this franchise has always been able to boil it down to an easily accessible formula. That hasn’t changed with this most recent iteration and its easy-to-pick-up gameplay. Whether you choose to play normally, through the use of a condensed shot list, or with newly integrated touch panel controls, ease of use will never become an issue. Both the normal and condensed lists use face button commands for basic shots, adding two-button combinations for special lobs and drops. Since there isn’t a lot to learn or master and a shot tutorial list is always present on the 3DS’ lower screen, even young kids won’t have a problem figuring out how to hit the ball in every way possible. Then again, they will probably prefer touching and holding the screen, in order to make those shots.
Playing sports in a traditional way has never been Mario’s preferred methodology. There’s always an advanced layer of arcade action that defines his athletic ventures, offering occasional over-the-top and visceral special abilities. In this game, each character has his or her own animation set and serve style, the latter of which is based on its specialty (power, speed, technique, defense or all-around). On top of those things, Camelot has introduced special shot panels. Returning a ball while standing on one of those will add elemental or ghastly flourish to said swing. Examples include the curving squid shot, an incredibly high lob and a quick drop shot that deadens almost immediately. Pulling those off requires use of an indicated shot type, forcing players to take their eye off of the action for a second, in order to look at the aforementioned list. That can become detrimental to the cause if you’re not quick enough, but most special returns use similar button commands.
Where Mario Tennis Open excels is in its ability to provide short-burst entertainment, with tournaments that can be saved at pretty much any time. It’s easy to jump in and then jump out within a matter of minutes, without losing any of your progress, which is a nice touch. However, limited play time may be better-served through the Exhibition mode, where single games can be played based on user-controlled length settings. The mode, which is a genre staple, also offers a chance to choose the court you’d like to play on. Each one is based on a different part of the Mushroom Kingdom, featuring unique construction materials that determine their hardness ratings. Examples include Donkey Kong’s Jungle and its hard, wooden surface, as well as Peach’s Castle and its soft, carpeted floors. How much the ball bounces depends on those factors.
On top of those two event-based modes, this cartridge possesses several unique mini-game challenges, along with download and play local multiplayer, online gameplay and some Street Pass applications. The latter two modes were unavailable for use during my review session, as the game’s online servers were down. However, I was able to take a look at their offerings, including player-specific online ranks, the option to play against met users’ Miis and the chance to participate in a co-operative mini-game where the goal is to hit the ball through multiple rings. The rings challenge also factors into the aforementioned single player mini-game list, which includes a targeting challenge, a wall-projected version of the original Super Mario Bros. that reacts to tennis balls and a return challenge where inkblots can block out players’ viewpoints. Not surprisingly, the major wow factor comes from being able to play the original NES classic by hitting a ball at a digital wall, especially since it works quite well.
All of the aforementioned gameplay modes can be completed using your Mii instead of one of Nintendo‘s iconic characters. That option’s provided benefit comes from its inclusion of player customization items, with tons of unique racquets, clothing styles, armbands and tennis shoes made available for purchase through the in-game clubhouse. Dressing up like a shell, or even Mario himself, is an available option; however, it’s the racquets, shoes and armbands which are the most important items. Each one has its own skill-based benefits, allowing you to create a character with his or her own unique skills. It would have been nice if this system had been expanded and more user-friendly, but it does the job pretty well, and adds replay value. Shopping isn’t free in real life, nor is it in Mario Open Tennis, where currency coins can be earned by repeatedly playing each game mode.
Being that this is a first-party Nintendo title, it’s not surprising that its presentation facets are close to top notch, with colourful visuals and quality sound effects. The game looks great, and allows its fans to adjust their viewpoint from top-down to a behind the shoulder view through basic device movement. While looking at the court from the latter (character) perspective, shots can be aimed by swinging the handheld to the left or right, though Open‘s standard controls are easier to use. Both views use the system’s 3D display abilities to add a bit depth, but it’s much more noticeable and effective when menus pop up or ink blots block the screen.
It’s been years since we’ve received a brand new Mario Tennis game, meaning that Mario Tennis Open had a lot to live up to. By choosing to do away with banana peels and the great Game Boy Colour version’s involved story mode, this iteration ends up feeling a bit on the uninspired side. Its included tennis action is interesting and rather fun, but it doesn’t have a memorable wow factor, which is disappointing. Tennis fans will have a good time with it, especially if they’re looking for a portable game that offers lots of short burst action and some challenging opponents. However, it’s not the ace we were hoping for.
This review is based on a copy of the game that was supplied to us for review purposes.
Mario Tennis Open is a polished and enjoyable game, but it lacks the wow factor that other Nintendo sports titles have had.