Solid core gameplay; charming characters; an outrageously memorable soundtrack; a plethora of multiplayer options; plenty of unlockables and collectibles; several control options; accessible to newbies of the franchise.
Textures look a bit muddy at times; gameplay can be shallow; thin customization options; the removal of all RPG-elements found in other handheld Mario Tennis titles; no more power shots; no doubles play or leaderboards for online play; may turn off series vets due to its apparent focus on accessibility.
When I first heard Mario Tennis was coming to 3DS, I immediately rejoiced at the thought of being able to trade volleys on the go with some of my favorite Mario characters. As time went on and details were released, however, it appeared as if Camelot was making questionable changes to its coveted franchise. Now that I’ve put several hours into the final product I can say that some of my initial reservations have gone to the wayside. While it lacks the depth found in previous games, Mario Tennis Open serves as a good pick-up-and-play experience as it sports a criminally catchy soundtrack, engaging gameplay, and a solid online component.
For starters, Mario Tennis Open looks fairly slick. Character models look solid and are well animated, and the color palette itself is every bit as vivacious as you would want and expect. Tennis courts and set pieces are also extravagant in their design, inspired by some of the more infamous Mario settings. So whether you’re playing against an intergalactic backdrop from Super Mario Galaxy or something more akin to the plumber’s nostalgic NES adventures, you’re treated to a cornucopia of whimsical scenes that are downright charming. That aside, textures can get a little ugly here and there, and certain stages are notably less interesting than others. Overall, MTO‘s graphics won’t leave you astounded, but they won’t leave you offended either, as they’re far from being an eyesore.
So we’ve established the game looks, at the very least, decent, but beauty is only skin deep. Fortunately, Mario Tennis Open plays pretty well to boot. For starters, Camelot has gone to great lengths to ensure the title can be enjoyed by gamers of all levels. In doing this, franchise vets will feel right at home, while newcomers will be able to jump into the thick of it without much difficulty thanks to the game’s accessibility and because, at its base, MTO is an arcade adaptation of the timeless sport. To this end, Mario Tennis Open excels as its core gameplay is rock solid. It’s fast-paced, engrossing and downright exhilarating. Matches that turn into stamina-testing seesaw battles are exciting, and it’s this genuinely fun aspect of Mario Tennis Open that will leave you coming back for more. Thankfully, firing up the game and getting to this point is effortless. Players begin by choosing from a cast of sixteen characters– such as Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Donkey Kong and the rest of the gang– and then from there it’s as easy as picking your desired mode, then going at it. Standard exhibition matches and singles and doubles tournaments, which consist of 8 cups in total, are all included, as well as local and online multiplayer, making for a pretty well-rounded set of features.
That’s a fine looking stadium, if I do say so myself.
Aside from the more traditional modes you may expect from a Mario Tennis game, there are also several specialized ones which are an absolute blast to play, even if they are merely minigames. Having said that, they don’t override the fact that the single player experience just seems to lack overall substance. The modes that are there feel well put together, but there aren’t all that many and you can blow through what is there pretty quickly. It’s a shame that some sort of career mode was not implemented to offset this, as it could have given the game longevity and players a more compelling purpose to play, outside of simply wanting to whack around the ol’ ball. The surprising absence of certain elements that are notoriously synonymous with some of the former Mario Tennis titles is alarming. The most shocking perhaps is that to which was just eluded– the choice not to include the enthralling, RPG-like story mode found in Mario Tennis: Power Tour. The lack of customization we’re given is also disappointing. Though a player can use their Mii to earn a plethora of unlockable costumes, there just isn’t a lot of player customization to be found. For some, this will undoubtedly feel restrictive.
Mario Tennis Open has also decided to nix power shots– a series staple– from the game entirely. In many of the former games, characters possessed a particular shot that was exclusive to them. This made for a dynamic experience that allowed each mascot to feel specifically unique. However, those are now gone, and in their place is a new system in the form of Chance Shots. Unfortunately, this system is far less creative and heavily emphasizes, what are essentially, QTEs. While I don’t necessarily have inherent issues with quick-time events, I do have a problem with them when they compromise and discourage the use of actual skill. As a sports title, Mario Tennis should encourage competitive, skillful play, but because Camelot is attempting to introduce the series to new players, that’s not how it is.
Outiftting your Mii is about the most customization you’re going to get.
Now what happens is, during a match, players will randomly receive a prompt on the screen that highlights where the ball will land. This spot is illuminated with a color that corresponds with a certain shot type. The player must then quickly line up their character and press the appropriate button at the correct time. From that point, it’s more or less up to the computer to decide where the ball goes, rendering the art of aim nearly obsolete under these conditions. What does matter is the timing. If the ball is hit just right, you’ll unleash an absurdly powerful shot that will no doubt leave your AI opposition wide-eyed and bewildered. This can come in handy when squaring off against some of the harder AI challengers; however, it’s rarely countered and feels a little cheap because of that. Now you may be thinking you’ll just opt out of using this feature entirely by turning it off. Well, that would be a fine idea, if that were indeed an option. In a headshakingly disappointing move, the developers have made this a mandatory feature, which means players are not given the choice to disable it. And though you could simply choose to ignore the prompts, since you’re not penalized for doing so, there’s really no incentive to not use them, especially online where they’re necessary to claim victory. Talk about dropping the ball; no pun intended.
It would seem that this feature is included to provide that aforementioned accessibility in order to better appeal to the Mario Tennis novice. That idea in and of itself is all fine and well, but the devs have introduced other gameplay elements to ensure newbies aren’t thrown right into the lion’s den. Most obvious is how MTO makes use of 3DS’s touch screen. During matches, players can use the face buttons to deliver their desired shot types, such as slices, lobs and topspins; however, there’s also an option to deliver each of the six shots by pressing an icon on the DS’s bottom display. This is a nice approach in that it allows rookies to hold their own as they become acclimated to the frantic nature of the back-and-forth gameplay. To properly pull this off, though, it requires some clever handling of the 3DS itself. Much like Kid Icarus: Uprising, holding the system while pressing the touch screen and still watching what’s actually happening on the top monitor requires some serious effort. This setup isn’t broken, but at best it’s awkward and at worst uncomfortable, though most of the time it’s somewhere in between.
In recognizing this, Camelot has provided another control selection that makes use of 3DS’s gyroscopic capabilities. Taking the camera from its typical eye-in-the-sky view to down behind your character’s shoulder, this option shakes things up pretty drastically, as you may assume. Using this scheme, the computer will take over control of all your character’s movements, leaving you with only one responsibility: timing your shots perfectly. In truth, this mode feels an awful lot like playing Wii Sports. While it’s certainly a fun idea, most of us have already been there and done that with said game. These alternate control schemes won’t appeal to seasoned vets, but the incorporation of them is nonetheless admirable. However, I can’t help but feel as if Camelot has chosen quantity over quality in this area, as really the only setup that feels ‘right’ is the default one. Regardless of which you choose, all feel pretty responsive and tight, which is positive, and integral to a game such as this.
There’ll be lots of this happening as you play through the game.
Where Mario Tennis Open really shines is in its audio department. In fact, it may have the best soundtrack of any Mario sports title, and features some of the catchiest tunes I’ve heard in quite some time. Just try and play the penguin stage and not bob your head to its infectious theme; it’s guaranteed to be embedded in your preconscious for days. Aside from the excellent music, the sounds themselves are pretty spot on as well. Rackets sending back projectiles, Mario taunting his foes in that lovable Italian accent and crowds cheering at the sight of a well placed shot, all sound great and add to the ambiance and atmosphere.
To top things off, Mario Tennis Open supports both local and online multiplayer, along with single cart download play. While the online competition is fierce, there are no leaderboards and games are limited to singles matches only. To say these restrictions feel like missed opportunities may be a righteous understatement. Moreover, matches aren’t completely lag-free all the time. I played more than a few that had some latency, and in rare instances I was disconnected altogether. These issues didn’t pop up consistently, though, so it was never a deal breaker. To be frank, it reminded me of the days I spent playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl online. Sometimes matches went off without a glitch and on other occasions lag was definitely present. This is made all the more frustrating by some of the recently released 3DS titles which have featured online modes that did not fall victim to this type of annoyance. That being said, I can’t think of a better gaming experience than one that allows you to face off against your fellow man. Having the option to do so locally or online with Mario Tennis Open is lovely. If that isn’t enough for you, the game supports StreetPass interactivity as well. Needless to say, there are plenty of ways to play the game with friends. It all may not be as refined as, say, Mario Kart 7 or Kid Icarus: Uprising, but it is impressive all the same.
Unless you’re a robot, you can’t help but fall in love with this stage.
In the end, Mario Tennis Open packs a good amount of content in its little cartridge. Between the colorful graphics, lovable roster, collectibles, unlockable gear and solid multiplayer component, MTO has a decent level of replayability. This certainly means a lot when the gameplay itself can feel a little shallow at times, mostly due to the lack of power shots and modes, particularly the RPG story mode found in Power Tour. The biggest issue is that the single player experience just isn’t all that deep. Even still, these areas don’t overshadow everything that the game does right. It has an outstanding soundtrack, great presentation values, solid core gameplay and a particularly addictive quality to it that often leaves you clambering for just one more match. It may not reinvent the wheel, or be the definitive Mario Tennis title, but it does just enough right to warrant a purchase if you’re a fan of the Mario sports series.