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Review – Mario Tennis Open

Mario is a very busy fella. Not only is he constantly having to go out and brave the many dangers of a turtle and mushroom army being thrown at him in order to rescue a princess, but he also finds the time to go kart racing and become world class at pretty much every sporting endeavour under the sun. The jokes have been made a thousand times, Mario is throwing Bowser into a pit of lava one minute and then playing basketball with him the next. It’s a bizarre universe. So need I say anything more than ‘anyone for Tennis?’

Of the Mario Sports series, Tennis is probably the oldest, the first being Tennis for the Nintendo Entertainment System, which game out even before the equally brilliantly titled Golf. Although in those days Mario still wasn’t played and served as umpire. Mario Tennis Open is the sixth game in the Tennis series, if you include the NES game and the Virtual Boy game Mario’s Tennis. So it’s been a glittering example of Mario’s sporting ability.

Right away when starting the game, it starts a tutorial that boasts several ways to play the game. It immediately shows the players that they have the opportunity to chose from either a classic view and play in a normal manner, or they can play in something the game calls direct mode, this activates when you lift the device vertically. However, upon activation of Direct mode, the  game’s 3D effect is turned off.

This is because when in direct mode the camera moves down to a close angle behind the player character. Rotating the device in your hands allows you to look around the court, as the 3D effect only works when looking dead on at the device, it is disabled to allow this function to work properly. Which is a shame because this camera angle would benefit from the 3D in a much more effective way than the regular viewpoint does.

In Direct Mode, the player character runs round the court automatically tracking the ball. While the player can manually control their character, they don’t need to. The minimum necessary effort is to simply plress the button to return the ball. This game mode is billed as being for beginner players, the player can simply hold the device and tab the touch screen when the appropriate shot type lights up on the touch screen, essentially turning the game into an even more boring version of whack-a-mole.

When played in the more traditional style, the game seems much more like a real tennis game. Like previous games in the series, there are several types of shot all of which have different speeds and amounts of backspin. Topspins, flat, slices, lobs and drop shots are at the player’s disposal. These can all be used by either pressing the button on the touch screen, which makes play quite a lot more difficult, trying to watch both screens at once, or by remembering the buttons and button combinations corresponding to each shot.

Anyone who has played a Mario sport game will know that some super powered, physics defying abilities come into play, In Mario Tennis these come in the form of Chance shots. Chance Shots become available when the ball lands in a certain part of the court, a symbol lights up on the ground and the player can stand in it and press the corresponding shot type. This activates a dramatically powered up version of that shot that in many cases will win the rally. These appear way too frequently though and entire games can be won with rallys no longer than three shots.

So that’s how the game is played, but what is there to do? The main game Campaign come in the form of a series of tournaments that get progressively more ‘difficult’ as they go on, there are eight in all. The game keeps a record of which cup was won with each individual character, once the first four cups have been won with a certain character, a star version of them is unlocked along with the final four tournaments. The Star raises the stats of that character significantly, meaning you’ll never use the normal version again.

There are also the Special Games (not what you think), these come in for the form of four mini games and are, in my opinion, the most entertaining part of the game. They are Ring shot, where players race against a clock to score points by getting the ball through rings that slowly increase in size. The larger the rings get the fewer points scored, when the player gets them. In Ink Showdown players must return balls spat out by piranha plants while avoiding ink balls. Galaxy Rally, inspired by Mario Galaxy, is where the player must keep a rally going while avoiding the holes that appear in the court while collecting star pieces for points.

The final game is Super Mario Tennis, where players try to keep a rally going against a large screen that is displaying a level from the original Super Mario Bros. players earn points by hitting the blocks and enemies that scroll across the screen. Points earned in all of these games are converted to coins which can be spent in the store.

The player select screen is filled with the usual cast of Mario characters available in these types of games, each having their own strengths and weaknesses. At this point it seems that Donkey Kong has completely forsaken his own series in favour of the Mario Universe. I don’t know why they don’t just make a Mario/ Donkey Kong Country crossover. That’s beyond the point though.

Once again, the player’s Mii is an available character. However, while these characters start off rather weak, as the player beats the tournament modes, they unlock new kits, rackets, shoes and wristbands that all have individual stats on them. These in turn can be bought from the store with the coins earned in the special games and Streetpass modes. Meaning players can both customise their Mii’s appearance and stats dependant on their play style.

There are also a bunch of achievements that can be found in the shop screen, all of which unlock special outfits for your Mii character. Character development and customisation isn’t something often seen in Nintendo games such as this, it’s an interesting addition and gives players out there the ability to really make some nasty custom characters.

For example, the blooper kit makes the slice shot more effective, meaning a fully charged chance shot will do an almost U-turn in midair before going back into the court, making returning it next to impossible. Even regular shots will swerve all over the place.

This is the type of thing you’ll only find in multiplayer though, these tactics are beyond the AI’s abilities. As well as the local and download play multiplayer, where players can play against one another or against the computer in a doubles match, there is also the online multiplayer, pitting friends against one another online in exhibition mode, or they can take part in open matches. These are the very fast paced matches against other random players in the same game mode, where a single tie break is all you get.

Everyone’s personal online stats are tracked via a points and ranking system, starting at 2000 and going up or down depending on how often you win or lose. The stuff I’ve seen people doing on the open play mode would make a pro gamers’ hair curl. While the online is simplistic in what options are available, it gets you into matches very quickly and you’ll be 1000 points down before you even know it.

This game also supports Street pass, which is also a thing. Other Miis you’ve picked up through street pass will pop up and you can either play a shot game against them or play the ring game against them to earn coins. Street pass is a sore subject for me, as I’d imagine it may be with many other 3DS owners. I’m really not a fan of games that require street pass to access some kind of feature within the game. Unlike the children of Japan, I don’t live in a compact metropolis fully of tech savvy fellow gamers. I live in the middle of nowhere and would be lucky to find another person with a 3DS at all, let alone walking around with their street pass turned on.

So when it comes to the portion of the review where I talk about Street Pass, I mark it down if it locks me out of content due to my misfortune of not being born in the big city. Thankfully, Mario Tennis doesn’t do this, and simply gives the ability to earn coins more quickly for every person picked up.

While a fun little Mario sports game, the title is ultimately very limited in gameplay and scope. There isn’t enough variation in gameplay; the standard offline gameplay can become rather dull after playing through all of the tournaments one after another. The game would want you to play through every tournament with every character, and ultimately there is very little difference between them and thus little reason to do such a thing.

The special games are the most interested part of the game, and in my opinion there aren’t enough of them. If there had been pages of mini games with the potential to unlock more as you go, then my interest would have been held for far longer than the two days it actually did.

Unlocking kits and rackets for your Mii can quickly become a chore as they cost upwards of 1000 coins each and one play through of a mini game earns around 200-300. The difficulty can range from mindmeltingly dull to device detructingly frustrating, although this is mainly during online as it is rare the AI puts up much of a fight and beating them becomes trivial if you are either using direct mode or have memorised the shot types and make use of the chance shots at every opportunity.

Overall, it’s a rather disappointing game considering how much goes into most games that carry the Mario name. While it is enjoyable there simply isn’t enough on the cart to justify putting it on a shelf next to games like Mario 3D Land which provide ten times the content for the same price. While we’re still in a situation where there aren’t very many interesting titles coming out on the Nintendo 3DS and desperation might cause you to look at this game with interest, just stay strong and save that money for something that you can enjoy for more then 48 hours.

(6/10)


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"Head of content at Rival Tide ~richard@mytide.net~ Also on Twitter: @Wooderon "
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