When “Mario Tennis” came out on the Nintendo 64, it was received very well to the point of turning into a series, with the inclusion of games on handhelds such as the Game Boy Colour. The key difference with the handheld entries is the feature of an RPG/adventure mode. The console “Mario Tennis” games do have plenty of content, including tournaments, multiplayer and funny rulesets, but it would’ve been nice if it had that suitably in-depth single player mode. Well, it was up to “Mario Tennis Aces” released on the Switch in June 2018 [not 2017!!!!] to see if it could do it. It was heavily promoted. But was it any good? What content such as tournaments and multiplayer were featured? Let’s find out. When you boot up the game, it automatically shows the intro cutscene to the story [yes, a “Mario Tennis” game has a story for a change]. Mario and friends are participating in a tennis tournament, when [Wario] and Waluigi turn up with the ‘legendary racket’ named Lucien. But the racket possesses Wario, Waluigi and Luigi, and generally causes chaos. It is up to you as Mario to travel around the world collecting the five sacred stones so you can stop Lucien. It’s nothing terribly deep, but it’s a Mario game…and a sports game, so it’s fine. It also allows for the irresistible charm that is usually part of the Mario games. In regards to that, the presentation is pretty good. The game is colourful, the characters are animated nicely, and it runs smoothly [except for some moments]. The main problems with the presentation are that the settings are lacking in detail, and the ‘conversations’ that happen in the adventure mode generally amount to no more than text with Mario and other characters showing basic emotion. There’s not much to say about the music, other than the music you’ll mostly hear on the menus may get stuck in your head. The music is not necessarily bad, but then again, you’ll be paying too much attention to the tennis gameplay to notice it. There’s quite a bit to cover with the gameplay, so let’s start with the controls and what it’s like playing on the court. Now, with this game being set in the Mario universe, realism is thrown out the window – with the only exceptions being the scoring system and the general types of shots such as serves, lob shots and so on. With “Aces”, the new mechanics consist of zones shots, zone speed, trick shots and special shots. All of these use up an energy gauge [also a new mechanic], which can be refilled by keeping a rally going, especially with very good shots. The energy gauge is also shared in doubles, which can be annoying if your teammate is controlled by the A.I. Zone shots involve moving to a star spot and aiming the ball for a fast shot that can be hard to return. Zone speed [which slows the ball down for the receiver] and trick shots [which mostly involves a character quickly jumping to a spot] can be used to return these, but you need enough energy and mostly pitch-perfect timing. Special shots are similar to zone shots, but use up a full energy gauge, and are even more deadly. In fact, so deadly that they can break tennis rackets, and yes, that’s a thing. Losing all your rackets results in you losing a match. Also, the special shots are essentially different to each character, and look nice too. There is an option to switch all these off for a fairly typical tennis match, but it has to be said – these are probably the best parts of the game because of the strategy involved. As you build up your energy gauge, you have to choose the right time to use your zone shots, or if you want to build up to a special shot and perhaps use it at the end of a match. Add to all this, the different types of characters. Do you choose a speedy playing type, or a defensive one? Some characters can be knocked back by powerful shots more so than others. The serve speeds [especially when you do a ‘Nice’ one] differ accordingly. You play as Mario in the adventure mode, and he’s an all-rounder, so maybe it’s best to play as an all-rounder when you start out. And speaking of the adventure mode… What does the adventure mode consist of? Just one tennis match after another? And a relative amount of grinding with stats? Well, Ace’s Adventure mode does differ from the handheld entries of the “Mario Tennis” series. While you do try to one-up opponents in tennis matches and upgrade stats [and get new rackets], a large portion of the ‘levels’ see you try to complete challenges, get high scores and defeat a boss by hitting it with tennis balls [?] – usually under a time limit. Occasionally, a puzzle element is involved, but it is purely down to hitting the ball in the right direction at the right time, and using the aforementioned techniques – especially the trick shots even just to avoid obstacles, which is an interesting idea. These strategies mostly render the levelling up of stats meaningless, though the grinding makes for the sections being a little easier – especially considering you level up even if you lose. Okay, that’s probably a nit-pick, but what surely isn’t a nit-pick is the amount of content and how it’s customised and unlocked. Previous “Mario Tennis” games did well in the past to have a lot to do in both single-player and multi-player, but does this one? Well, yes and no. For starters, once the adventure mode is over, that’s…it. No new rackets. No…nothing. There is an update which extends it a little. To be fair, the updating is free and as usual with Nintendo’s DLC practices, it’s done in a good way, but what is included should’ve been there from the beginning. The update includes an option for longer tennis matches, where the strategies in timing zone shots and special shots really make for some frantic gameplay. There is also the inclusion of extra modes [both in single and multiplayer]. There are slight changes to the gameplay [such as characters’ speed and power], which are not noticeable, but it’s the thought that counts. The way you unlock characters is different. You have to participate in online tournaments to unlock them, or wait until a specific month to get them automatically – though it would’ve been nice to obtain them under specific game conditions like in the past. Two big glaring flaws in the game that exist, regardless of online, are how you customise matches and the swing mode. When you customise a match, choosing a specific court requires you to basically select ‘No’ for all the courts except the one you want. Now you can choose the ‘Yes’ option for some courts and have it chosen at random, but the mechanic is arbitrary and time-consuming. It also would’ve been nice to have more courts, but the variety featured is nice, complete with hazards such as Piranha Planets and bombs blowing up in players’ faces. One of the modes featured is ‘Swing Mode’ which features the motion controls of the Joy-Cons in a similar fashion to Wii Sports. A few of the ideas are fairly cool, but the motion controls feel mostly unresponsive which means these extra features would’ve been better simply with button inputs. So, it can be argued that the relative lack of content and the way matches and modes are customised is ultimately the game’s biggest flaw, and can leave one wanting more. But this game can still be a blast to play. The Adventure mode is generally fun, if only for one playthrough, and the tournaments with the A.I are an okay way to pass the time. If you’re going to get this game, get it for the mostly rock-solid gameplay mechanics [that include the zone and special shots] and the multiplayer. This is a great game to play with other people [especially now that there’s a longer match option], and the online multiplayer [which was the focus of the pre-release demo] is a nice inclusion, regardless of the unlockables. Here’s a question: is this game really for ‘Level-Up Gamers’? Well, the mechanics are more complicated than those in, say, “Mario Tennis” on the Nintendo 64, and can take a bit of time to learn – keep this in mind when playing with other people. So, this is a game for ‘Level-Up Gamers’ instead of ‘Non-Gamers’, but just barely. Though, should they [or anyone for that matter] get this game? Well, if you’re up for fun and frantic tennis matches with Mario and friends, you may enjoy this. “Mario Tennis Aces” seems like an improvement over the apparently lesser game that was “Ultra Smash” on the Wii U, but the flaws are not outweighed by the positives by a considerable margin. This game is good, not great.

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Dennis Veasley

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