Mario Tennis Aces Review
Nintendo SwitchAlso available on Nintendo Switch
Mario and his pals from the Mushroom Kingdom have certainly been in their fair share of sports titles over the past thirty years, from karting to golf, football to baseball, they’ve seen and done it all. The Mario Tennis series has always been one of the more popular titles in the Mario sports franchises, and thankfully, the latest entry, Mario Tennis Aces, fixes many of the problems in the previous Wii U’s entry: Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, but it certainly doesn’t ace every department.
Developers Camelot have listened to fan feedback when developing Mario Tennis Aces, and have included a highly anticipated Adventure mode, the first in a Mario Tennis game since Mario Tennis: Power Tour on the GBA. Sadly the story mode isn’t all it was promised to be in Nintendo’s marketing materials. The adventure mode is basically Mario, accompanied by Toad, searching for five power stones in order to rescue Luigi, and in the process Wario and Waluigi, from a dark force imbued in a special tennis racket called Lucien. Essentially, the story mode acts as a long tutorial, teaching you the basics of tennis gameplay. It plays out as a level based system, where each level involves beating a set challenge, before unlocking and fighting a boss to recover each power stone. Shoehorned into this are some bare-boned RPG elements where Mario’s attributes such as power and speed increase following the completion of each level. While the story mode is a nice little addition, it quickly becomes a chore and often featured surprising difficulty spikes which forced me to grind previous levels over and over to increase Mario’s attributes. Having said that, it does a great job of teaching you the basics of the game, while the varying courts look fantastic, as do the characters and backdrops, it’s just a shame that the story feels ludicrous and somewhat forced into the game.
As you would expect from a Mario Tennis game, the arcade tennis gameplay is solid; you’re able to take advantage of a range of different moves to outwit your opponents, such as the drop shot, forearm, spin and more, but Mario Tennis Aces introduces several new skills. As you rally, you’ll build up energy points that can be used to perform Star Shots, which you can aim and fire once a star symbol appears on the court. Your opponent can try and return these, but should they fail, their racket will be damaged, and should they sustain too much damage, their racket will break, giving you the win though a KO. Rack up enough energy points, and you can perform a Zone Shot, which essentially acts as a final move which can break your opponent’s racket in one shot should they fail to return it correctly. It’s not just you who can perform these shots, so can your opponent, but you’re able to slow time down using energy to ensure you return Star and Zone shots accurately. In addition, you can also perform trick shots which allow you to cover the majority of the court in lightning speed in order to reach a shot you’d otherwise have to leave; miss a Trick Shot however and your energy gauge will quickly deplete, return one and it will increase. I found Trick Shots a little difficult to pull off for the first couple of hours, and, as they’re performed with a quick movement of the right Joy-Con analogue stick, I often performed them accidentally.
Star and Zone shots mean you’re constantly thinking about the best play strategy. Do you try and return one and risk your racket, or do you leave it and try and recover the lost points? This make matches feel like a war of attrition at times, especially against human opponents as computers often performed the same strategies and shots over and over, meaning once you’d figured them out, they become a doddle. KOs and the constant thinking one step ahead of your opponent makes Mario Tennis Aces feel like a fighting game at times!
The character you play as also has an influence on your play style. Mario and Luigi are, as you would expect, the vanilla here and are suitable for any form of play style, while Yoshi is classed as ‘speedy’ allowing you to quickly cover the court at the expense of power. Bowser, Donkey Kong and Chain Chomp are ‘powerful’ players, allowing you to literally smash your opponent off the court, but will require you to master Trick Shots in order to reach most returns. There are also 'technical' (Toad and Toadette) and 'tricky' (Boo) characters who come with their unique pros and cons. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent's character is essential in deciding the best strategy to success.
Courts also have differing technical aspects to be aware of, some such as clay have good ball speed and bounce, while others such as sand play more slowly. There are also some courts which add a little extra danger to the proceedings by including obstacles, my favourite being a court on the deck of a ship. This court includes a huge mast in the centre, which you and your opponent can use to deflect a shot off course and away for a winner!
Mario Tennis Aces does an excellent job of nailing the arcade tennis feel, and while gameplay feels solid and enjoyable, the game feels a little sparse when it comes to content. Once you’ve finished, or just got bored or adventure mode, there’s a tournament mode to dive into where you compete in four games against either the AI or a human opponent in the Flower, Mushroom and Star cups. To date, only these three cups are available, and if you’re playing against AIs, the difficulty is laughably easy, so once you’ve completed them, there’s no incentive to return. The lack of cups and difficulty levels is disappointing, given the depths on offer in similar modes found in the likes of Mario Kart 8.
The biggest draw of Mario Tennis Aces is the Free Play mode, which allows you play individual games online or against human opponents either on one Switch console (with the Pro controller and Joy-Cons, or the two Joy-Cons separated), or on multiple consoles through local play. I noticed no serious performance issues playing online, but the lack of a ranking system or ability to filter by player level means I often found myself pitted against much better players, which was a little disappointing, infuriating and disheartening. Nintendo may decide to patch in a ranking system at a later date, but for now, it’s a little hit and miss.
When playing locally, you’re able to change the settings too, so you can increase things like game length, pick the number of rackets available, play doubles, or even play with standard tennis rules, so no Star or Zone shots! Mario Tennis Aces shines the most while playing locally with friends and personifies everything Nintendo is aiming for with the Nintendo Switch. If you love playing Mario Kart, Mario Golf, or any Mario sports title locally with friends, you’ll have endless hours of fun here, especially as the tennis gameplay is the best it has ever been in a Mario Tennis game.
Mario Tennis Aces also features a Swing mode which allows you play the game by using your Joy-Con like an actual tennis racket, and while this mode works surprisingly well, it doesn’t really feel like anything more than a gimmick.
I was a little disappointed to discover that no traditional tennis game mode was included. While you can play matches without the Star and Zone shots, to date, there’s no option to play a full, traditional tennis match. Mario Tennis Aces uses a best-of-three games set up, so anyone looking to playout a full six/seven game, five set match as their favourite Mushroom Kingdom protagonist will be disappointed, especially as this feature has been offered in previous titles.
Mario Tennis Aces looks stunning when docked, boasting all the traditional charm and substance you’d expect from a Mario title; character models really pop, while the courts boast a wealth of colour and beautiful backdrops. The game is certainly one of the best looking titles on the Switch and easily matches Mario Kart 8. I noticed no drop in performance while in handheld mode either, with the game running smoothly.
Mario Tennis Aces is certainly one of the best arcade tennis simulators on the market, and is a significant upgrade on the Wii U’s Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. Its gameplay is thoroughly enjoyable, and a group of friends playing locally will have hours of fun, but therein lies the problem. The poorly implemented adventure mode, lack of single-player game modes, and the removal of full-fledged traditional tennis matches means content feels scarce, and for a RRP of between £40-£50, unless you’re planning on regularly playing with friends locally, you’re best saving your cash and renting.