Review by MisterPanda
Reviewed: 07/15/03 | Updated: 07/15/03
Tennis must be fun if Bowser would take a day off from kidnapping Peach to play it.
Camelot, the same people who brought us Mario Golf, has once again created another obscure sports game featuring classic Mario characters. Mario Tennis is simply a fun sight to behold. The colorful cast of characters and stages helps this particular tennis game stand out from the rest. Sure, it may look cutesy and not as realistic as other tennis games, but that fact certainly doesn’t lower its fun factor. In fact, its unique modes increase the overall fun factor.
Gameplay: Mario Tennis is a tennis title, (surprise!) but that doesn’t necessarily mean you must like or have ever played tennis to enjoy the game. The same holds true for anyone that doesn’t like Mario games. (all three of you)
First of all, for those of you who are unaware of the rules of tennis, here’s a brief lesson on what you’ll expect. Tennis can be played in singles or doubles, the latter being played with two characters on each team. The playfield consists of a giant court divided into 2 sides with a net. There are 4 service courts, one for each of the four corners surrounding the net. The serving character who starts the game must hit the tennis ball into the diagonal side of the court from the baseline. The character receiving the ball must let it bounce once, then hit it.
From then on, you hit the ball back and forth unless one of five things happen to the ball. The first losing scenario where the opponent receives a point is if you let the ball bounce more than one time on your side of the court. The next scenario occurs if the ball goes out of bounds before bouncing. Out of bounds means that it is outside the service courts and/or baseline. Another scenario takes place at the serving stage when you serve the ball. If you hit the wrong service court or hit the net twice during serving, then it is considered a double fault, which gives the opponent a point. If you hit the net at all during any time of gameplay, you lose yet again. Finally, the last and most embarrassing losing scenario is when you get hit by the ball. It may be sadistic of me, but I find that aspect to be the most humorous thing in this game.
The scoring system is a little confusing for those who have never played tennis. If you didn’t already know, there are numerous sets in one match. Each set has about 2-6 games. Whomever can win the most sets wins the match. You start the game with a score of love, otherwise known as zero. If you score a point, your current score is 15. Afterwards, you go up to 30 and finally 40. At that point, if you score the next point, you win the current game. However, not only must you get a score of higher than 40, you must also be 2 points ahead of your opponent. For example, if your score in the current game is 40 and your opponent’s score is 30, plus you score an additional point, then you win. However, if both of your scores are 40, it is considered a deuce, in which point one of the characters must score two times in a row to win.
There you have it, the important rules of tennis. Mario Tennis is more or less based on real tennis, except includes special powered up shots for the ball. Such shots include the topspin which glows yellow and tend to be faster than regular shots and the slice which glows blue and tends to spin upon bouncing.
A unique aspect of mention is the fun cast of characters. Each character has something to do with the Mario series, whether they be main characters of one-time characters. There are 14 playable characters with a few unlockable ones. Better yet, each character has different styles that allow them to be better at something than the others. For example, some characters may be powerful while others are fast. Using the traits best attributed to each character to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses can prove to be a huge advantage.
The first trait is the all-around trait which works great for beginners and features a mixture of good, but not great qualities. The characters who have this trait are everyone’s favorite duo, Mario and Luigi. Next comes the power trait, which guarantees that your shots will be strong enough to speed through the court. However, with power comes sluggish movements, as shown through Bowser, Wario, Donkey Kong. Speedy types are those that can blaze through the court to get the ball wherever it is hit. They include Baby Mario, Yoshi, and Birdo. Players with good technique can send the ball practically wherever they want and consist of Peach, Daisy, Toad, and the new character Waluigi. Finally, tricky characters like the floating Paratroopa and Boo have unpredictable styles that are hard to describe. Practice with the style of your choice and learn how to avoid showing weaknesses to excel. Having traits such as these adds some distinctiveness to each of the characters and shows that each character can be unbeatable if played right.
In addition to colorful characters, colorful stages are included as well. They can range from grass courts, clay courts, or even customized courts featuring portraits of the characters themselves. Each court has different speed and bounce ratings. Courts with high speed ratings will have balls flying throughout the court while those with high bounce ratings will have balls being bounced into the air. Choosing the stages affects your gameplay. Just another unique aspect that makes this game special.
Connectivity to the Game Boy Color with the Transfer Pack and Mario Tennis for GBC can allow you to gain extra characters and stages. The characters are not related to Mario much at all, but are the only characters that you can customize yourself. This is a great extra for anyone who also plays Mario Tennis for GBC.
Finally, if that wasn’t enough, there are a few extra modes in addition the main tennis mode. The first is a tournament where you must go through multiple cups playing tennis against many characters until you finally bring home the trophy. Then there is the fun ring shot competition, where you must shoot balls through rings under specific limitations such as a time limit. Piranha challenge pits you against a three piranha plants shooting 50 balls at you which you must hit consecutively. Finally, the most interesting mode of gameplay is the one that feels most directly related to the Mario series. The mode is Bowser’s Castle, in which you are placed on a tilting tennis court. Above the net are multiple item boxes, which like Mario Kart, allow you to gain special items to use against opponents. The banana peel, Koopa shells, and the super mushroom are mere examples of the items that drastically create traps throughout the match. Using items at the right moment can earn you victory without dropping a sweat.
Finally, the cream of the crop in this game is playing with friends. Nothing beats playing doubles matches with 4 players or setting up tournaments. This is a great party game, even better than games such as Super Smash Brothers or Mario Party. Of course, playing alone has its moments, but is nothing compared to the fun you can experience with others.
The flaws come in the limit of what you can unlock. It would have seriously been more fun with additional characters to unlock, but you are stuck with but a few unlockable ones. Finally, the gameplay gets rather difficult if you are at the top of the screen. However, it is not too big of a deal, and you can change the camera angle anyway.
All in all, Camelot has done it again. I’ve never really had much interest in tennis at all until I played Mario Tennis. It may be that realistic characters and gameplay bore me or that Mario Tennis has fun modes. Either way, Mario Tennis is a unique game that actually follows the rules of tennis for the most part instead of changing it dramatically. If a sports video game can change your opinion of a sport in an instant, then it must be a pretty great sports game.
Graphics: The graphics are pretty good compared to other N64 games. The polygons look a tad better than they did in Super Mario 64. The character models look great, as do the stages. There’s nothing worth complaining about the graphics.
Music/Sound: Most of the music is original and feels appropriate for the game. Then of course, some music is actually from the Mario series. The sound consists of short voice samples from the characters as well as the constant sound of balls hitting the racket. Nothing special, but nothing bad here.
Replayability: You could play this over and over again. The fact that I’m reviewing this game in this next-gen age must mean that this game must be enjoyable enough to play even when compared to other next-generation games. Many modes, characters, and stages improve the replay value.
Rent or Buy? Buy this beauty whether or not you like tennis. Hell, I didn’t have an interest for tennis until I played Mario Tennis. Of course, if you’re patient, you might as well buy the upcoming Mario Tennis for GCN. You probably wouldn’t have read this review if the GCN version was out anyway.
Final Rating: 10/10
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