Developer: Camelot / Publisher: Nintendo / Played On: 3DS / Price $39.99 / ESRB: Everyone [No Descriptors]
When Mario’s not jumping around, punching bricks and murdering turtles, he’s a man of sport. Mario fans like it best when he sat in a go-kart, but if there’s a second choice on the ‘Mario Sports Games Worth a Damn’ list it has to be tennis.
Mario Tennis has been excellent since its debut on N64 in 2000, and this new version on 3DS retains that core essence of good, playful fun. Mario Tennis Open may not have all the elements you might hope to see in a Mario sports game – it plays a fairly standard game of tennis – but what is here is solid, fun gaming and a particular treat in local multiplayer.
Mario Tennis has gone portable before on Game Boy and Game Boy Advance (and Virtual Boy for all five you that bought it), and all were great. But given the restricted power of those platforms, they were comparatively cut back and pared-down versions next to their full-fat console counterparts.
Not this one. 3DS gave Camelot more than enough technical grunt to create a Mario Tennis that looks and plays as smooth as it ever has, and on the small 3D screen, the bright primary colors and chirpy locales of Mario’s world are definitely pretty.
And it plays a good game of tennis, too. Camelot has come up with a new power-play system which has you rushing to stand in glowing circles that appear on court and mashing a specific button determined by the color of the circle to return a smash.
This system is great; it’s easy to understand but can be tricky to master as your brain works hard to convert colors into button prompts while maintaining accurate timing and positioning.
To make this easier for casual players, there’s also a gyroscope-controlled mode in which the computer handles your character movement while you concentrate on shot type and direction by tilting the 3DS.
This is fun too but both systems come with issues. Firstly, while the new power plays are satisfying to pull off, they come as a replacement to the awesome character-specific powers we’ve seen in previous Mario Tennis games, which are sorely missed.
And while gyroscope controls are new and surprisingly intuitive, having the computer do half the work does kind of feel like cheating, and more purist hardcore gamers who turn off the assists will find themselves at a disadvantage – particularly in online multiplayer. And this can detract from what is otherwise an enjoyable online multiplayer mode.
MTO has gone for a fairly straightforward tournament mode for it’s main single-player offering, with stages divided into cups much like Mario Kart. But while this system suffices in Mario’s karting series – which has vastly different tracks in each cup – it feels shallow in MTO simply because the courts, aside from minor changes in ball speed and bounce, don’t offer any varying gameplay.
It’s almost like Camelot forgot it was making a Mario game. Where are the nonsensical courts set on the moon or on the wing of a flying ship? Where are the monkeys crossing the court mid-game spitting watermelon seeds, or Lakitus dropping Spikeys for players to avoid? There’s so much that can be done with the Mario universe, and MTO does none of it. And that’s a huge shame.
To mix things up there are some neat mini games on the side. Super Mario Tennis has you hitting the ball against a projection of levels from the original Super Mario Bros. game. Ring Shot has you aiming to hit the ball through rings, Galaxy Rally features a court with a disappearing floor and Ink Showdown has you swatting black goo spat by Piranha Plants before it hits the screen and obscures your view.
These games are fun and feature a hint of the creativity I hoped to see more of in the main tennis mode, but they are more of an afterthought. Playing them will, however, earn you coins used to purchase gear for your own customizable Mii character, whose stats can be improved as you unlock more equipment.
Multiplayer in MTO is as straightforward as the single-player. You play tennis either against friends or the public, choosing quick or longer games, and earning coins for winning. Again though, there’s no option to play only against players with gyro-assists switched off, so traditional players will be disadvantaged in public games.
StreetPass also offers some extra value, picking up other players’ custom Mii characters which you can play against or team up with in a game of doubles.
Mario Tennis is still, however, awesome fun when played with friends all in a room and with single-cart multiplayer for up to four people, all you need is a single copy to have heaps of fun.
Mario Tennis Open is like Jessica Alba with a giant, puss-filled zit right on the tip of her nose. Its flaws are glaring and hard to overlook – a beginner-friendly control system that harms competitive online play for purists and, more crucially, a distinct lack of imagination.
But at its core it’s still beautiful – Camelot has polished its tennis engine over 12 long years and it’s as satisfying as ever to smash the ball around with ridiculous curve and a bright blue trail. It’s also one of the best local multiplayer games on 3DS if you have enough friends to play with.
It’s good, but it could (and should) have been incredible.