Hands-On Preview: Mario Tennis Aces

Everything is coming up… well, you get the idea.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 06/20/2018 10:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Mario Tennis Aces is coming to Switch this week, but for many fans there’s a question of whether or not the game will be able to make up for the misfire that was Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. To say that Ultra Smash was a bare bones affair would be generous. The game, mechanically, was sound and fun, but the dearth of content was practically bewildering, especially coming from Nintendo. Thankfully, the ills that ailed Ultra Smash are nowhere to be found in Aces. Indeed, the improvements here are so great that I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Aces might become a regular online staple for fans.

I was plopped into a doubles match right out of the gates. Immediately, the mechanics here of swinging a racket and zipping around the court stood out as for being so sublime. Camelot has been developing Mario sports titles for years now, and if there’s anything that studio knows how to do beyond a shadow of a doubt is incorporate fun, intuitive controls into its games. One of the great things about Aces, and the Mario Tennis series as a whole, is that for series veterans each installment feels instantly familiar, while newbies are greeted with accessibility and discretionary depth. Aces will be a game that anyone can jump into and quickly be able to play.

Of course, for those not in the know, Mario Tennis games aren’t about “traditional” tennis. Sure, it’s possible to play more straightforward matches, something that Aces excels at, but it’s the “Mario” in the title that should make it clear what to expect when hitting the courts here. Power-ups and zany, impossible hits are the name of the game in this series. On that front, Camelot has brought a couple of intriguing new features to the table in the form of Zone Shots and Zone Speed.

Zone Shots allow for the most precise placement of a shot yet seen in this series. When activated, a Zone Shot slows time around your character and the camera shifts to a first-person perspective. No, a gun doesn’t suddenly appear, but a targeting reticule does, allowing you to pick a specific spot on the court to send the ball back to. This can result in some wickedly devious returns that an opponent won’t see coming and can turn a match quickly in your favor.

While Zone Shots sound great, some of you might worry that it overpowers a match, to which I will now point you to the aforementioned Zone Speed. When utilizing Zone Speed, time again slows, but this time it’s the world around you that becomes mired in cement, while your player is able to move at regular speed unfettered. The benefit here is that it allows the player to reach shots that might otherwise normally be unreachable, including (ta-da!) those pesky Zone Shots. Now, this is where things get a bit tricky, because it’s in your best interest to counter a Zone Shot precisely, otherwise your racket will break… which can result in a loss.

In Aces, you start a match with two rackets in reserve. Every time your foe lobs a Zone Shot at you, if you don’t return it precisely, your racket’s health meter will diminish. Once both rackets have broken, the match is forfeit and you lose. Ouch. Still, while that might sound frustrating, in my time playing the mix of Zone Shots and Speed kept things extra competitive and, moreover, balanced. That’s not the end of how Camelot has changed things up for Aces!

Special Shots should be fairly familiar to Mario Tennis veterans, but this time around they play a major factor in those breakable rackets I mentioned. If a Special Shot connects and the return isn’t timed right, it’ll instantly break your character’s racket. Double ouch. There are also Trick Shots to deal with, which require expert execution in order to send some wild returns towards your foes. They’re difficult to land, but the reward (and sense of accomplishment) of doing so is palpable. Between these, Zone Shots, and Zone Speed, there’s a ton of variety within matches and the pace is breakneck.

I was wildly impressed by Mario Tennis Aces. It’s astounding how much Camelot learned from its past mistakes with Ultra Smash. This latest installment is much more packed with content, the changes to the controls and additions are very well done, and I can’t wait to begin hitting the court with opponents all over the world once the game launches on June 22. Don’t forget that participating in Aces‘ tournaments this month and next will grant access to Blooper and Koopa Troopa as playable characters!

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