Mario Tennis Aces is a lot like Australia’s tennis bad boy Bernard Tomic; it has the talent to be a top ten player, but lacks the will to perfect its game and certainly won’t be remembered as one of the greats.
Mechanically, Mario Tennis Aces is incredibly sound. You really couldn’t ask more from a Mario Sports title.
Characters control with the high degree of polish you’d expect from a Nintendo title and the addition of trick shots, slow-motion chase downs and pin-point winners make the moment-to-moment gameplay frantic, fun and unbelievably competitive.
Every hands-on preview has pointed out how Mario Tennis Aces can feel more like a fighter than a tennis title and they’re bang on. Managing your special meter and deciding whether to try perfectly block your opponent’s power shots (which can break your racquet) adds a layer of strategy you might not expect.
In my first five matches playing couch co-op, I lost three by knock-out. It forced me to change my style of play and even forfeit a few points to stay in the game. An internal tug-of-war that has you thinking critically about every point.
Online, my experience has been stellar. The games I’ve played have run smoothly and if competing online for bragging rights is your bread and butter, this game gives you the framework to do that. Unfortunately, that’s about as deep as Mario Tennis Aces gets.
Every character is available from the moment you boot up the game. Those 16 characters cover the Mario main-stays, but with the exception of Chain Chomp, there’s nothing crazy enough here to excite. There’s no customisation of racquets or outfits and no feeling of progression by way of leveling up, which – depending on your point-of-view – can be great for balance or a boring restriction.
Yes, Nintendo has promised unlockable characters as a reward for participating in future online tournaments, but that in itself hints at a bigger problem that’s emerging in the company’s design philosophy.
The original Splatoon struck gold by drip-feeding content on a regular basis. It kept players engaged while building an online community, but in this reviewer’s opinion, the concept only worked because the game was a new IP. Expectations by way of playable characters, stages and weapons were non-existent for Splatoon because there was no benchmark.
Seven games into the Mario Tennis series, we deserve better.
As far as I can tell, there are literally zero unlockable items in the base game, save for a handful of courts your receive by progressing through the single-player ‘campaign’.
Frustratingly, by the campaign’s end, you don’t even unlock every stage you visit or every character you face off against. They’re all finished and clearly playable, yet it’s content that’s being held back. After dropping $80 for the downloadable version (yes, Australian prices are ridiculous), this is a slap in the face.
The single-player campaign takes roughly four hours to complete 100%, but could take longer depending on your skill level. I must make mention of the boss fights in this mode. The five grudge matches against gigantic foes are Mario Tennis at its best. Each is tough and makes great use of the game’s mechanics in what is otherwise a banal, glorified tutorial.
Challenges do get harder but the three or so on offer repeat themselves in almost all of the campaign’s five ‘worlds’. Perfect for a trailer (and god knows they got me excited), but in practice they quickly lose their appeal.
The experience points you earn for beating them are seemingly useless. You can’t select how they’re spent and Mario seems to level up at a predetermined rate.
You’ll play against several characters along the way, but despite each of them clearly working in-game, you don’t unlock a single opponent to use yourself once you beat them. A few stages become available for multiplayer, but others don’t. The only thing you unlock consistently is new racquets which don’t actually change the way you play. Given each one is slightly stronger than the last, there’s no reason to go back to an older style, except for cosmetic reasons.
Did I mention you can only play as Mario? Yep. That’s a thing.
As for the story tying it all together, it’s an Avengers: Infinity War rip off. No matter how low your expectations are going in, you’ll be disappointed.
There’s about 20 second of cutscene all up, divided between the very start and end of the game; half of which you have already seen in trailers. All of the explanation is left to dialogue boxes, including exposition from a mystic character we never see and are never really introduced to.
It’s an inexcusably low level of presentation for a full-priced retail game that flows into a horribly bland menu system, soiling what is otherwise a gameplay gem.
It is by no means a double-fault like its predecessor on the Wii U, but Mario Tennis Aces is far from the perfect serve its title suggests.