Review by EJRICH

Reviewed: 07/05/07

Hats Off to Camelot for Giving Nintendo One More Reason to Say Mario Can Play a Serious Game

You know, tennis courts are some of the most dangerous places on the planet. For one, the people who play on them all use some weirdly shaped stick they call a racket to hit an oddly colored ball at the opposing player (talk about duplexes). Another thing is all the screaming that they do. You see the player running up to the ball and out pops some shrilly voice that would have better served to net them a part in an opera reject musical. To top it all off, they continuously hit the ball back and forth, back and forth until one of them finally misses. Then the looser yells at the ref to overturn the score.

For one reason or another, Nintendo decided to introduce one of its hallowed franchises to this horrifying sport, with the resulting chaos forming into none other than Mario Tennis. Featuring more than 15 characters from the Mario universe, Mario Tennis attempts to deliver a solid tennis experience while making sure the game stays true to the zany series it’s set in.

Just what makes it so zany, though? Through using a bunch of bizarre challenges, courts, and players, Nintendo managed to create an experience that few other tennis games have ever been able to obtain. Right from the start, it’s fully apparent. After choosing from more than 15 Mushroom Kingdom rejects, the player is charged with moving up the divisional ladder and claiming the trophy. You’ll do this multiple times, with each cup becoming progressively harder until you reach the point that Bowser is moving faster than Mario.

Talking about getting to that point is one thing, though; actually doing it is another. First you have to learn how to play the darn game of tennis. Mario Tennis provides four character types (well, technically), those being power, speed, technique, and average. Each character fits into one of those categories, with their personal stats being apparent from it. It’s obvious as to what each does (power gives a stronger hit, but a character with two ton weights tied to their feet, speed is fast but pathetic, technique nets you those wicked shots, but winds up not giving you that extra power, and average is, well, average). The problem is picking one that fits your playing style. Because each person will obviously have different tastes, it’s incredibly pertinent to pick someone that you think you can gel with.

After you’ve found out which character you like, it’s time to actually get on the court. The A and B buttons handle most of the real game play, with the control stick giving you the ability to move your character (and sometimes the ball in terms of serving). Matches are played out in “Sets”, with each round giving you and your opponent a chance to serve. To serve, the player must press the A button to throw the ball in the air, and then again to whack it at your opponent. If you press the B button, you can shoot off a lower shot aimed more towards the ground, kind of like a slicing ball that can make the unsuspecting idiot whack it into the net. You can’t just expect the opponent to sit back and let your serves fly past, though, they’re going to return the ball.

Like it real life, tennis revolves around whacking a ball back and forth, back and forth until one player misses. When the opponent hits it back, you’ll have to hit it back as well. There are a variety of ways to hit the ball, and while most of the time you’ll stick to the standard A or B button whacks, there are times when a certain star will appear if the opponent (or you) stupidly floats the ball too high in the air. Those stars mean it’s time for a little revenge.

And oh, is it sweet.

After playing 50 some odd matches with an opposing player, the idea of getting to smack a speeding ball into their belly or face starts to look really good. Spiking gives you the opportunity to do that. Although any experienced player would tell you that spikes give you the prime opportunity to end a tough match by sending the ball careening in the other direction, those of us who just love to get a bit of revenge will purposely aim at the opponent if they charge the net in an attempt to save themselves (common sense would tell you to move backwards, but we are dealing with Nintendo). If it works, you’ll get the satisfaction of watching the replay of the ball flying into their fat faces and them flying backwards. If it doesn’t, well, you just blew a perfectly good opportunity to end a match.

So you’ve finished your match (and gotten a bit of revenge), maybe completed a couple of cups, but you really just want to wind down. What else does the game offer? Plenty. One of the first things any player will see in Mario Tennis is the abundance of play modes that you can access right off the bat. After playing the game a bunch, even more will become unlocked. The game offers several mini games, a complete multiplayer mode, and more to make sure you get the bulk out of your game. Mini games, probably one of the best things ever to hit this title, range from hitting a ball through floating rings while playing a match to competing on a tilting surface over a burning lake of fire. There are also items like banana peels to make sure the surface is especially happy for your arrival. Other notable entries include Piranha Ball, which has you hitting back balls shot off from the mouths of a piranha, and target practice, which has you whacking balls at specific targets.

To top all of that off, the game offers a complete multiplayer mode that basically gives the players the ability to do whatever they want in the game. Having a tough time in a particular cup? Reattempt it with your friend to see if your combined efforts can pull of an upset. Or if you’re the type that just really wants to shove the ball down your friend’s face, then you can compete against each other on a variety of different courts. Feel free to smack speeding balls in his face for guilty pleasure purposes.

If they were to stop at all of that, then the game would probably be more than worth the purchase price. But they didn’t. They decided to take it over the top with an excellent graphical scheme complimented by some great tunes. Sporting a sky-high polygon count, Mario Tennis is one of those rare N64 titles that does an excellent job of making sure those ever-present rough edges are non-existent. The game is also extraordinarily colorful, making sure to cover its bases so the player can completely be immersed in the game play. The music is also great to listen to, with tunes changing constantly depending on the mode that you’re playing in. Imagine it, last point of the set, match is on. It’s game point, and this couldn’t be more important to your cup run. Then the music suddenly shifts. Changing to something fast and edgy, you now know the pressure is truly on.

Situations like that truly make Mario Tennis one of those amazing N64 gems. The developers seemed to make all the right moves at the right times, melding into what really feels like one of the best tennis experiences ever created. Hats off to Camelot and Nintendo for one heck of a job, because with a game like this, you may never want to get off the couch again.

Rating: 10

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