After a couple of hours getting to grips with Mario Tennis Open I couldn’t help but be reminded of a previous 3DS game I’d played earlier this year, Tekken 3D: Prime Edition. Sure it plays great and I was having a good time, but when all was said and done I couldn’t help but be left wondering just where the rest of the game was. Unfortunately this leaves Mario Tennis Open feeling like an enjoyable but hollow experience when compared to previous entries in the series.
Mario Tennis Open, much like the games before it still plays an excellent game of tennis. You have your standard shot types like topspin, drop shot, slice etc… performed either with the usual button combinations or now via one of a number of touch screen configurations. Whereas “power moves” were the focus for the last Mario Tennis title, here things are scaled back slightly in the form of “chance shots”. Appearing periodically on the court floor, coloured circles allow players to perform exaggerated versions of shots when standing within and matching the shot type. Slices for example will have insane curves on them while drop shots will stop dead after the first bounce. They add an extra element of excitement to each rally and keep things unpredictable at times.
The gyro-controls once activated (via awkwardly holding the console upright) give you a behind-the-player view with the game taking over control of your character. It seems like an odd decision not to have this view for regular play since it’s actually a decent angle that gets you right in the action. Here it is merely used as an option for newcomers.
Character selection is decent enough although fans will find some of their favourites missing. A lack of Koopa Troopa or Toad being just two examples. Courts themselves also feature no real gimmicks or character (with the exception of perhaps the Mario Galaxy court) which will disappoint fans of the series. Power Tennis offered some cool ideas (a constantly shifting court and Luigi’s Mansion inspired location being highlights) and to see things go back to basic bounce and ball speed alterations is disheartening. With such a rich history and crazy world to work with it seems Camelot took the easier option when instead they should have just gone Mario crazy. I mean why not?
For those playing alone options are limited. Making your way through a series of eight different tournaments you’ll face increasingly tougher opponents taking place on each of the game’s courts. AI starts off ridiculously easy and doesn’t really ramp up until the second half of events making early stages drag on a little. It’s extremely basic, but if you want to unlock the majority of the game’s hidden secrets, you’ll need to play through these tournaments.
In addition to tournaments and standard exhibition options, Camelot have also include four mini games each adding its own Mario-style kookiness to the proceedings. Ring Shot sees you trying to aim the ball through randomly appearing gold rings while Galaxy Rally similar in fashion has you collecting star bits with well placed shots (a la Mario Galaxy) whilst avoiding gaps in the court. Ink Showdown sees you returning shots fired by Piranha plants dealing with ink occasional obscuring your view. Finally Super Mario Tennis sees a giant monitor in front of you slowly scrolling through the first handful of original Mario Bros. stages with your tennis ball essentially acting as the red plumber. Aim shots at coins, question mark blocks, enemies and warp pipes to gather points and extend your remaining time. It’s tough and genuinely original in a genre that has since seemed devoid of new ideas. Overall they are a nice distraction even if they all essentially focus on shot placement in some form but it’s a real shame there aren’t more on offer nor any online leaderboards.
As you play through tournaments you’ll unlock shoes, outfits, sweatbands and rackets all with their own stats. However to actually own these items you must also collect coins via completing the four mini games mentioned earlier. It sounds like a good idea and I have to admit I would find myself getting excited to see what bounty await me for winning more and more matches, however the execution is both frustrating and repetitive. The way you earn these unique items is done via very restricting ways. Want to unlock new outfits for purchase? Well you HAVE to play another tournament? Want to buy that new racket you’ve just unlocked? Well you HAVE to play through the same set of mini games over and over until you have enough. It would have been nicer to have been rewarded coins via other means and vice versa because as it is, feels like a real drag earning the right to own some of the better gear. Another issue is the fact equipment can only be used for your Mii. Want to win Mario a new cap? You can’t. I know people love the Mii implementation, but for those fans that would love to see Luigi in Mario’s gear or Diddy in a sombrero this feels like another missed opportunity. Also in another bizarre choice, the way each item’s stats are laid out is just downright unhelpful. Displayed as a series of pie charts there is no way to compare items other than via your own memory. What were Camelot thinking?
Multiplayer is where any sports game shines and Mario Tennis is no different. Offering both singles and doubles matches for up to four people in local you’ll also be able to play a couple of the mini games as well. Whether you’re using download play with one cartridge or everyone has a copy, this is the best way to play Mario Tennis Open and should you have three friends with a 3DS then you’re in for a treat. Online on the other hand is a bit of a double edged sword. While for the first time in the series, you can play others via an internet connection you’re limited in a number of ways. Not just by your opponents (only players in your region are available) but also the options in general (Matches consist of simple tie breakers or a single set). There’s not even an option for doubles! With Nintendo’s emphasis on embracing online you’d think there’d be more attention given. As it stands what we have feels very barebones.
StreetPass is a feature that is getting more ambitious with each new release and Mario Tennis Open continues this trend allowing you to trade Miis and their gear between systems, ready to compete in an exhibition match or best in one of the four mini-games. QR codes are also being distributed to unlock hidden content such as colour swaps for Yoshi and character costumes. With more promised in the future, here’s hoping we see more stages or brand new characters.
Graphically speaking Mario Tennis Open looks fairly impressive matching (and maybe even surpassing) the visuals of previous Gamecube entry Power Tennis. The characters sport a decent amount of detail and the courts also present some nice looking scenery (if at times plain). The music too also fairs well with decent remixes and original tracks played both in menu and on the court. Voice work however feels extremely lazy with characters yelping the same noises from the aforementioned Gamecube version which quickly grow annoying.
Mario Tennis Open plays a great game of tennis. It’s fast, it’s competitive and most importantly it’s fun. Whether it has the longevity however is an entirely different question. Thanks to a mixture of poor design choices and only the most basic of features this Open feels more like an exhibition match rather than a full fledged Wimbledon.