Review by Mop_it_up
Poor sportsmanship has never been this fun.
Mario and his motley crew hit the courts for some fast-paced tennis action. Who knows when and where they trained, but they're certainly a skilled, multi-talented bunch. Although it may not be much more than tennis with Mario characters, Mario Tennis is a solid tennis title nonetheless.
The game features the basic exhibition and tournament modes, as well as a couple of special ones. Exhibition lets up to four players hit the court of their choice, in either singles or doubles, with a variety of match lengths to select. The tournament mode is for one player and is a series of three singles or doubles matches on predetermined courts; sadly it isn't possible to play the doubles tournaments co-op with a second player. There are six different tournaments in all, each of which get progressively more difficult, as well as feature longer matches. The Trophies won are recorded for each character individually, which will keep the completionists occupied for some time.
The Ring Shot mode tasks the player with hitting the ball through rings which appear all around the court throughout the match. There are several ways to play this mode, which have the player collecting the necessary amount of rings with limited balls, in a time limit, or in a normal tennis match. There is a special Bowser Castle court stage which features a couple twists: the court tilts as characters run across it, and item boxes line the net, which, when struck with the ball, give the player an item akin to those found in Mario Kart. These include bananas that will cause players to slip, shells that will disable an opponent for a few seconds, and stat-changing items that will grant a burst of speed or power. It's a fun twist on tennis, but it feels a bit tacked-on; it would have been nice to see it expanded into a full-fledged mode.
Though it may be a bit lacking in modes, the core game is solid. A simple tap of the A button will perform a topspin shot, and the B button will execute a slice. Pressing both together does a smash shot. Pressing the corresponding button twice in a row will result in hitting with more force. If either button is pressed before the ball reaches the character, they will begin to charge up their racket, increasing power even farther. Lobs and drops can also be performed by pressing A then B, or B then A, though these types of shots don't seem to be very effective.
Despite its simple mechanics, there is still some depth to the gameplay. Hitting the ball at the correct time is the difference between whizzing it by the opponent or rocketing it into the net. If the ball is hit when it is near the ground, or traveling downward, it may not get over the net, and might even stop dead if it wasn't hit with any power. If it's hit with too much power, it could fly out of bounds. Quickly getting into position to make a good shot, whilst also attempting to hit the ball in a place where the opponent can't make a good shot, is the skill of the game.
The game features a solid cast of sixteen Mario characters, ranging from the old standbys to the moderately obscure. This game brought Daisy and Birdo out of the world of the forgotten, who have been featured in numerous games since. It also introduced the wily Waluigi -- the mischievous counterpart to Luigi -- who fits in with the cast as if he's been there all along. As usual, the cast shows little in the way of good sportsmanship. From Luigi's crying to Wario's jeers, they'll laugh in the face of their defeated opponents if they win, and burst into a fit of rage or sorrow if they lose. The characters instill a lot of personality into what would have been a plain tennis game.
Characters are separated into five different styles of play, such as all-around, power, speed, technique, and tricky. Power characters, for example, can smash the ball with incredible force, though they lack in all other areas. Technique characters are good at ball placement, but are average in other areas. Even within these types, characters differ in ability, giving each one a unique feel. For the most part, the characters are fairly balanced. The gameplay does favour speed however, so the more quick-footed characters have a slight advantage.
The characters are well-modeled, about as smooth as the Nintendo 64 gets, and the fluidity of the animations really brings them to life. Some of the courts feel a bit plain in comparison. The crowd is comprised of a stretched, blurry texture of random colours, and is completely motionless. The court itself has some nice touches to it, such as the grass court becoming noticeably worn as the tournament goes on. The music is fast-paced, though it doesn't seem as whimsical as the typical Mario game, and gets pretty dramatic during the final point of a set or a tiebreaker. The sound effects are more cartoony than realistic, which fits the game perfectly. The voice work is topnotch.
Mario Tennis is an enjoyable tennis game brimming with personality. It may not feature much in the way of fantastical locations or gameplay twists, but the core gameplay is solid and engaging. There aren't very many modes on offer, but there is still a lot to collect for the completionist. Anyone with an interest in either tennis or Mario shouldn't hesitate to download this game from the Wii Shop Channel.
Product Release: Mario Tennis (US, 06/28/10)
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