Game, Set and Mario
Well, here we are – our first big Mario release of 2018 launches on Switch right in time to hit Wimbledon fever. Mario Tennis Aces is the seventh Mario Tennis game, developed by Camelot in a series that’s graced pretty much every Nintendo console and handheld since the N64. While Tennis probably isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, the games have been consistently fun and on the handhelds have featured a popular RPG mode for solo players. I took a look at the online preview a few weeks back and came away surprisingly positive – after spending several hours with the final release I’m still hugely positive but can’t help feeling a little underwhelmed in places.
First things first, the full game isn’t that different to the online preview on the visuals and control side so I won’t go into that here. If you want to find out how the game looks (it looks lovely!) and plays (it’s easy to pick up but surprisingly deep!) then go check that out here. It’s okay. I’ll wait…
You’re back! Okay, so what does the full package of Mario Tennis Aces offer over its brief but fun preview? Well, first and foremost this is the first console Mario title to offer a single player “RPG” mode. I put RPG in those quotes because, well, this is really the sole area in which Mario Tennis Aces falls short. You see, this mode feels a little… half baked? It’s story driven, opening with a cutscene showing Luigi making a huge mistake and taking a cursed tennis racket from those cads Wario and Waluigi. There are five power stones that, if found and inserted into the racket will turn it into an unstoppable weapon… or somesuch. Basically Mario goes into full Infinity War mode as he works with Toad to try and find the power stones, free Luigi from his sport implement induced curse and prevent catastrophe. It’s the usual daft Mario stuff but the actual mode that sits underneath it is very lacking. Mario moves from node to node on a world map, challenging characters to rounds of tennis, completing challenges and battling bosses. It’s fun, but not hugely engaging and a real let down given how deep the single player mode was in previous handheld iterations. Still, it’s worth playing as it’s a good way to learn techniques and unlock other Tennis courts to use in the meat and potatoes of Aces – the competitive modes.
So what of those competetive modes? Well, Free Play mode allows players to compete in rounds of tennis against the cpu, other local players or other players online. You can switch between standard tennis scoring (albeit shorter sets than you’d find in a full tennis match) or a simple scoring method, choose to turn off the games powerful zone shots, trick shots and special abilities and play singles or doubles. It’s great fun and playing online is a huge challenge, even in this mode. The online challenge continues over into Tournament mode where you work through the ranks in competitive matches. It’s here that you’ll find the most skilled opponents on the internet and matches can be fierce with little room open for error. Strangely, while there is the option to play offline tournaments against CPU players, there’s no option for offline players to compete against each other; this would have been great for friendly gatherings or even events.
Finally, there’s… swing mode. No, this has nothing to do with the dancing popularised in the 1920s or the other, more filthy thing… This mode aims to teleport you back to the heady days of Wii sports and controller induced TV destruction. It’s… well, it’s certainly a thing. Obviously you swing the JoyCon to hit the ball while your character moves around the court of their own accord. It kind of works and will certainly provide some entertainment for really young players, but it feels far too inaccurate compared to the button controls to provide any real fun.
If Nintendo have shown one thing with the Switch it’s that they’re dedicated to providing rich, competitive multiplayer experiences. Whether it be Mario Kart 8, Arms, the remarkably generous Splatoon 2 or the upcoming Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the house of Mario has continued to provide good post game support and Mario Tennis Aces is the latest addition to this list. We already know we’re getting some more characters added via free DLC later this year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some new game modes (offline player tournament?) added as well. It is a shame that the initial package is let down by its underwhelming single player mode.
Mario Tennis Aces is a solid game chock full of hardcore mechanics which makes it even more of a shame that the package feels somewhat slight. While the actual tennis action is massively compelling, a deeper single player mode would have rounded things out nicely. Still, this is another Switch exclusive that’s well worth picking up.