It’s a bit astonishing to see how busy Mario has been. As far as a mascot being shoehorned into every imaginable situation, there doesn’t seem to be a legitimate brand out there that can outshine the versatility of Mario. Originally a humble turtle stomper in a world gone mad, Mario eventually grew up to explore oceans, space, different worlds and even time itself. Along the way, he picked up a few hobbies: kart racing is his most prolific, but we can’t ignore that Mario has tried almost every sport under the sun. Baseball, soccer, basketball, golf…he’s even been to the Olympics once or twice. But,for some reason, tennis is Mario’s biggest sport. He used to play it when he was merely red wireframing, and has since redone it no fewer than five times. Now, with the golden goose of the Nintendo Switch laying hit after hit, it was time to get back on the court as Mario Tennis Aces.
Believe it or not, this competitive sports game actually has a storyline underneath, and one worth playing to achieve and unlock more material in the multiplayer and non-narrative game modes. Story mode is great for acclimatising to the game and the style, but also to just see how positively insane things can be in the world of Nintendo’s storytelling and still have everyone accept it. After winning a great doubles tournament with Peach against Bowser and Bowser Jr., Mario is accosted by a clearly possessed Wario and Waluigi pair, trying to give him a clearly cursed tennis racket. Luigi, who needs a redeeming solo game again soon, grabs the racket and is immediately inhabited by evil spirits. Turns out the Mushroom Kingdom is built on the ruins of the kingdom of Bask, which used to revere tennis and accidentally made the most powerful, evil racket of all time. The racket was sealed away with five power stones that, if combined with the racket, will make you unstoppable. Not in tennis, in, like, the whole galaxy. But if Mario can get those power stones back first, maybe he’ll stand a chance to defeat the racket and reclaim his brothers soul/save the world. You’d think everyone would just automatically be on board with this, but no, everyone wants to challenge Mario to a series of progressively more insane tennis-based scenarios before they help out. I seriously love these moments where the game acknowledges Mario as the hero, and that his friends want to help him out, but, first, they need to put him through the paces, because otherwise the reasonably short story mode would be even shorter. You can probably bang it out in well under five hours, maybe less if you get the hang of stuff faster than I did.
So, tennis. First and foremost, motion controls do exist (yay!) but only in specific modes that are not story mode (boo!). I know, I wanted a hilarious successor to WIi Sports that wasn’t the unbearably unfun Tennis. But, for it’s worth, the multiplayer motion control mode, called Swing Mode, is fun, and it certainly gets the job done in a big way. You can do singles or doubles, set your own conditions for AI strength or match length, and pick from a variety of courts that either work well with the tennis game or a damn hinderance. The JoyCons are fairly complex in their gyroscopic input and you’ll notice there is a variety to the swings. There’s also Big Ball mode, which makes things even more fun as you have to volley the equivalency of a beach ball with a tennis racket. This mode right here is what Nintendo knew fans would ask for and wanted to include as best they could while also catering to the ever-growing, ever-vocal eSports crowd. We’ll get to that in a moment, but I wanted to assure people there is a way to swing your controller around like a racket and have fun, and this is it. It’s worth coming back to time and again, though I recommend having two “left” JoyCons on hand. Either JoyCon gets the swinging and striking done well, but not so much on court movement, especially when the right JoyCon has the joystick smack in the middle of the controller. Left JoyCon for the win and the ease and mobility.
Alright, Mario Tennis Aces. There’s a lot to love here. Firstly, there’s a ton of whimsy injected into the game, even in the competitive modes. You’ve got a whole cavalcade of characters, from old standards (Mario, Luigi, Bowser) to fan favorites (Boo, Toad, Daisy) and some really bizarre choices (CHAIN CHOMP DOESN’T HAVE HANDS). Fans will have little problem finding a character they want to play with, though a handful appear in the adventure mode as NPCS but not as ones you can eventually select. Sorry Shy Guy, hope you come back in the next Mario Party.
Additionally, Mario Tennis Aces has some really great and innovative additions to the tennis matches themselves. The courts that you see in adventure mode aren’t the ones you’ll play for freeplay and tournament, so the Battle Boat can suck it, I’m never playing that place again. However, there are courts that have optional hazards to toggle on and off, so if you really like having Piranha Plants grab your ball and spit them back at you, good news, you’re set. But, most importantly, the actual strikes are quite different. Players who opt to default buttons (just running around and pressing A) will have a good time, get through adventure mode mostly unhindered, and enjoy the game enough in terms of “a fun game.” Being able to use different buttons for different strikes, however – getting in lobs, slices and backhands – are what build the strategic element of Mario Tennis. You quickly learn that different returns provoke different reactions in both players and AI, and you start to think multiple steps ahead, trying to coax your opponent into giving you what you need so that you can get that perfect Zone Strike. The powerup hits of the game, Zone Strikes bring crosshairs and brutal hits into play, and also makes defensive players use bullet time to rush and get those lightning-fast returns as quickly as possible. It’s tennis with the added bonus of it being a Mario game, so you get to incorporate silly, competitive moments within.
The ability to break rackets is easily my favorite thing about the game. If you’re fast on your feet to return a powerful hit but a little early on the button reflex, your racket takes damage. Get damaged three times and your racket breaks and that’s the game. Why not? You’re talking about a game of tennis where a massive dinosaur can smash a ball directly at a ghost on a court surrounded by lava, and having a bit of edge and danger to it just makes it all the sweeter. It’s not like it’s impossible to block the strike, it’s pretty easy if you keep your cool. But that moment when your opponent’s tool just shatters, leaving them with no choice but to forfeit…perfection.
The trick shots, on the other hand, are utter hell to pull off. Theoretically, if you have the timing and a ton of practice and just the right angle and Mars is in retrograde, then you can do a crazy sideflip through the air and hit the ball back, earning a massive power boost and utterly confusing your opponent. I put a good ten hours or so into this game for my review, which probably pales in comparison to tennis diehards, but do you know how many trick shots I successfully hit? About two. Yet, if you head online either to watch replays on YouTube or to get your ass kicked against other players, you’ll see folk who’ve confused Mario Tennis Aces with the Cirque du Soleil and they couldn’t care less. I’m astonished at how good people can get at games when they want to, and it blows me away the level of professional ass kicking that you can experience, online, or in the comfort of your own home from friends who are heavily invested in this game.
At the time of writing this review, Mario Tennis Aces has just rolled out the 1.1.1 balancing patch, which, from what I can tell, is a precursor to a more serious online competitive scene. ARMS taught us that a game can be fun but not necessarily appeal to everyone, but adding the options for more zealous players to have better chances to outclass each other is crucial for a game’s longevity. The story mode and the motion controls, combined with some pretty good local tournament settings, will make sure that Mario Tennis Aces has a good summer launch, especially given that no previous tennis game has had a real story mode. But, when you mix in the rankings that begin July 1st and allow for players to show off what they’re made of and how much they truly understand Toad’s powerful strikes, then things become more interesting. I know for a fact that I’ll never reach competitive greatness, but I wouldn’t mind dipping my toe in, trying my best and, more importantly, seeing the titans of the sport really push to outshine each other. After all, eSports are the future: why not focus on an ePort of a real sport?
Though there are some legitimate complaints regarding the game, they simply didn’t affect my time and enjoyment with Mario Tennis Aces, and, as a more relaxed gamer nowadays, I can appreciate the combination of simple concept and potential complex execution. I rarely play online, so latency issues and lag aren’t really my bag, and I heard that more characters could be coming, so I’m terrifically excited to see this game get the same longterm support that other Nintendo titles have been graced with. If you enjoy tennis, if you enjoy Mario, if you enjoy watching your opponent’s face crumple because you smashed their racket with your amazing shot, then Mario Tennis Aces is a serious good time. And, when you’re trying to beat the heat, having some light, motion controlled action is still a great activity without overexertion.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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