Review by Malorkus

Reviewed: 05/18/16 | Updated: 06/02/17

Court is now in session.

Mario tries to be a jack of all trades. We rarely see him do any actual plumbing, which may indicate that he is merely not very good at his job. Mario is okay with this, as the free cake and raving press that he earns with every princess rescue seems to leave him with a fulfilling life. Besides, in case the plumbing industry in the Mushroom Kingdom one day collapses altogether, Mario has his bases covered as both a professional racer and athlete. After perfecting his swing on the golf course, he and the crew decided to move on to perfecting their tennis skills. One of the earlier Mario sports titles, as well as one of the more beloved to this day, Mario Tennis brings solid sports game mechanics to the table and throws cartoon-like Mario characters into the fray. At the same time, the game is hardly a revolution for Mario spin-off titles, merely being a solid experience that never goes above and beyond.

Mario Tennis brings one of the widest playable rosters in a Mario spin-off title at the time of release, including the introduction of Luigi’s twisted doppelganger, Waluigi. Each character differs in their running speed, the force they swing, and the direction they curve the ball. Characters like Yoshi can reach the ball faster, while powerhouses like Donkey Kong can swiftly return the ball, giving your opponent little time to react. Even some unexpected faces like Boo appear, who can curve the ball and fake out the other player. Whether in single-player or multi-player, you can set up games in either singles or doubles. The main method of game progression comes through the tournament mode, as you play gradually lengthier games against steadily tougher opponents. Beating tournaments will unlock further modes and characters, encouraging single-player skill refinement as much as multi-player action.

What makes Mario Tennis a more refined package than many other Mario sports games is how in spite of its colorful appearance, it puts an emphasis on honing your skill. Some of the later cups get fairly challenging, even after you become experienced with a certain character. At the same time, the concentration on pure tennis almost makes the game…boring. One of the things that helps Mario sports titles stand out is how they put a fun Mario twist on the everyday sports game, and this original installment of Mario Tennis does not really do that. Later installments would introduce themed courts and special abilities for characters, while this entry is bare-bones in terms of unique ideas. Here, you have clay and grass courts changing ball speed and bounce, but that’s about it. It delivers a solid game of tennis regardless, but at the same time, it feels like you get little here that you could not also get in a standard tennis video game.

Fortunately, Mario Tennis spices things up in its side modes. In ring shot, two players must hit a ball back and forth through giant rings that appear in mid-air, and the smaller the ring, the higher the point tally earned. While perfectly playable with the computer, achieving high scores is a fun challenge when cooperating with a second player. The Piranha Challenge requires you to hit back tennis balls that are spit out by Piranha Plants, again in a challenge for high scores. There is also a Bowser mode, in which item blocks are used to cause Mario Kart-like effects, such as littering banana peels on the court or knocking over opponents with shells. Mario Tennis shines mostly in multi-player, however, as even though the single-player modes can get dry, the game becomes quite addictive when up to 4 players participate. When competing with friends in doubles especially, things get frenzied quickly, and yet it stops short of Mario Party-level friendship destruction.

Combined with Mario Golf, Mario Tennis both helped Nintendo spring-jump a long series of sports titles with the portly plumber, and helped Camelot become the king of that very mountain. Though I still cannot decide all these years later whether I love or hate it for introducing Waluigi, it brought the most impressive overall roster a Mario title had seen up to that point, giving options for every fan. The actual tennis mechanics are very solid in both singles and doubles, testing your reflexes and getting pretty challenging in later tournaments. At the same time, it lacks the uniqueness of other Mario sports titles, feeling much like a generic tennis game without any “Mario” twist or spark outside the side modes. This all adds up to a well-done yet oddly boring affair. Multi-player shines most in all of the game’s modes, and Mario tennis is most worth picking up these days on Virtual Console with a friend in tow. It’s a humble beginning for what would become a beloved spin-off series.

Rating: 7

Product Release: Mario Tennis (US, 08/28/00)

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