Mario gets around when it comes to sports. He's seen in racing, soccer, even basketball. I've played all of those, but I never played the Mario Tennis games. I was intrigued about the all new 3DS game Mario Tennis Open, because I wanted to see what everyone liked so much about the series.
Now that I've played it, I have to ask: what is it that people like so much about this series?
Mario Tennis Open is tennis. There's no better way to describe it, which is bizarre for a Mario-themed sports title. Typically, whenever a sport gets the Mario treatment, you can expect over the top maneuvers, maybe some power ups, and generally "wacky" gameplay. This is not the case in Mario Tennis Open, which stays more grounded in reality than you would expect.
There are a group of different shots you can do. These cover the range of every typical tennis swing: top spin, a lob, line shot, slice, and a drop shot. Performing any one of these frequently cause a colored circle appear on the opponent's side of the court. Each shot is associated with a different color, such as red for top spins and purple for a line shot. Use the appropriate swing in that colored circle and you'll perform a smash hit, which is like a pseudo-super shot that accentuates the power of the swing. It makes lobs go higher, slices curve wildly out of court and back in, and line shots even faster.
This makes the entire game like playing a game of "Simon". Not only does the the colored circle tell you where exactly the ball will land, it tells you exactly what swing to use to properly counter. It takes away a lot of the challenge and strategy behind playing. It's not about using a variety of swings to trip up your opponent; it's following directions until someone messes up. To make it easier, the X button serves as the "easy swing", which translates to automatically performing the best counter-swing possible with no discernible disadvantage from using the actual button presses. You can feasibly play every match and play just as well as you normally would using only the X button.
Every Mario character imaginable appears, each with a type of play style. For example, Mario and Luigi are all-around characters, Bowser and Donkey Kong are power hitters, and Waluigi is defensive. Those characteristics are the only thing that define them from each other. There are not any character-specific super shots to preform. It keeps everyone a little more balanced, but it also makes everyone much more bland.
The newest addition to the roster is yourself. You can play as your Mii, and customize him to your liking, which is easily the strongest allure of the game. Your Mii starts off as generic as it comes, but as you play any game mode, regardless of winning or losing, you'll unlock a multitude of equipment themed after the iconic characters and other items from the Mario universe. You can get different rackets, clothing, wristbands, and shoes, each modifying your different statistics, like speed, serve power, and trick shots. Unfortunately, there's no way to see what your Mii's stats are like without going to an item and changing it, so it's hard to gauge exactly how you are modifying yourself. But, I found myself wanting to play as my Mii more than any other character.
You purchase items with coins, which are obtained from winning matches or from mini-games. One of the mini-games has you knocking ink covered tennis balls back at piranha plants and missing one blots your screen with black goo. Another has you guiding the ball through rings on the court to accumulate a high score. As the rings get larger, they become worth less. A third game based on Super Mario Galaxy, with themed music and stage layout, has you collecting star pieces with disappearing platforms, preventing you from hitting the ball into the same place twice. The last one is Super Tennis Bros. You go through modified stages of the NES Super Mario Bros. game using the tennis ball to collect coins, get mushrooms, and stomp goombas.
The piranha plant and ring mini-games are the weakest. The Mario Galaxy one is better, making you smartly place your shots and get a higher score. Super Tennis Bros. is the strongest of the bunch. Getting a mushroom and breaking every block on screen and still being able to find secrets throughout is enjoyable, if not a bit novel. The coolness factor still runs out rather quickly, but it is the fastest way to get coins to buy more things for your Mii.
The mini-games aren't enough to keep you coming back, and neither is the single player mode. Rather than a career mode like they've had in the series past, it only consists of playing through eight single or doubles tournament ladder. The tournaments are only worth playing to unlock new characters or items. The multiplayer is okay. The standard single and doubles modes apply with 2-4 players, and can be taken online. You can also do the ring and Super Tennis Bros. minigames, though they don't add much to the fun factor. The simplistic gameplay also makes competitive multiplayer rather dull.
If nothing else, Camelot certainly made the game look pretty good and play smoothly. Character animations and frame rate are top notch. Your Mii sprouts legs and arms and looks proportionate. The stages are colorful, but the music, while upbeat, is forgettable. There is a 3D view mode that brings the camera right behind your character. You use the gyroscope to aim your shot while the computer moves your around for you. It activates on its own, as depending what way you tilt your 3DS automatically changes the view point. I found that my comfortable way of playing means using an uncomfortable view point, and you can thankfully turn the 3D view mode completely off.
Mario Tennis Open plays well, but there just isn't much to it. The single player tournament ladders are pretty basic, and the mini-games don't have much staying power. The huge amount of unlockables for your customizable Mii is pretty cool, but there isn't a drive to want to get them. The simplistic gameplay is a huge downer, and it just feels like it isn't a "Mario" game. There aren't any wacky courts with hazardous traps or stupidly powerful special shots. It's all so straight-forward and ho-hum that the whole game just feels so lackluster. It's well made, yes, but it does not have that fun factor expected in Mario games.
Even longtime Mario Tennis fans will be disappointed with this one.
(5s are all right. It's not remarkably good, but not remarkably bad either. Completely ho-hum, and could be a decent way to pass time.)
|Jared Knabenbauer is the ScrewAttack.com Reviews Editor, Hard News host, and a host of our weekly video podcast, "SideScrollers". He has also produced several notable ScrewAttack shows, including Nametags and Control Issues. He specializes in RPGs, and has a great fondness for Dungeons & Dragons. A comedian at heart, he is one serious gamer.|
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