“Mario Tennis Open” is a 3DS title I have been looking forward to ever since it was first revealed, in fact from the second it was announced I knew it’d be a must have title for me mostly due to the fact it combines two of my favourite things; Tennis and Mario. Fast forward a few months and the game has finally launched in Europe and despite mixed reviews I’ve picked the title up within a week of its release with high hopes for it.
Starting the game up it feels like it belongs on the 3DS right from the off. It certainly looks the part, however, as all good gamers know that alone doesn’t make a great game, especially not a game which revolves around sport. To start off with I head for the single player modes, as online is best left until I get a proper feel for the controls. For single player modes players have three choices; “Tournament,” “Exhibition” and “Special Games.” I head for tournaments as other then the online play that is where the bulk of the game is. Tournaments can be played as either singles or doubles; to keep it simple I went for single and chose to play as the well rounded Luigi. To start off with only one tournament is available with more being unlocked as you progress; the first tournament is the “Mushroom Cup” and sees us start out on the “Mushroom Valley” court, which is a fairly nice place and seems to be a court placed on top of one of the giant Mushrooms from the “Mushroom Gorge” race track featured in “Mario Kart Wii” and “Mario Kart 7.” Right, getting into the match it’s time to get used to the controls. There are three different ways to control this game: (1 Use the control pad and stylus. (2 Use the control pad and face buttons. (3 tilt the 3DS console upwards. I went for the second option as fiddling with the stylus didn’t feel right, and overall I completely disliked the third option which I’ll explain later on. The bottom screen of the 3DS is basically split into six different buttons which each represent the six different types of tennis shots in the game: Simple shot, topspin, flat, slice, lob, and drop shot. Now, these shots can be powered up every now and then. A core aspect of this game is the “chance shots” which is basically when a coloured circle will appear on the court and when the player stands within it and uses the shot which colour matches the circle (either by clicking the shots button on the touch screen, or pressing the correct face button(s)), they will perform a more powerful version of that shot. The chance shots are very much the making and breaking of this game. For good points they’re an interesting aspect, and one which in multiplayer games you can have a lot of fun with in the respect of, ‘will you, won’t you’ use the shot as it appears on the court. However, when it comes to the tournaments within the main game itself they tend to feel overpowered for a while. Generally the problem is up until the third tournament hitting a chance shot will almost auto win you a point in the match because the game really is far too easy to begin with. This is likely to slowly ease newcomers into the game and its, at times complex, controls, but really there are no excuses for not even offering a small sense of challenge up until the final match of the second cup. Thankfully the game tends to make up for it by really upping the difficulty for the four star cups and you really can’t win with chance shots alone, it takes a lot more skill and overall planning of moves.
The only other thing control wise which doesn’t fit well with me in the game is tilting the 3DS upwards to change the camera view to behind the character. In this mode the character can move for itself unless you move the slide pad, which means all you have to do is click the buttons on the bottom screen to make moves which really takes away from the fun of the game for me. You really could cover the top screen and just push the correct buttons on the bottom screen as they glow to win the match. Thankfully there is an option within the games settings which allows you to completely turn the mode off, so you won’t end up mistakenly using it by tilting your console.
“Now what about the rest of the game?” I hear you ask. Well, I guess it is about time I talk about the other single player mode of interest; the mini-games. Anyone who has played “Mario Power Tennis” before will know the title offered quite a number of different mini-games, but sadly that isn’t the case here as the number has been cut down quite a bit. “Mario Tennis Open” only offers four different mini-games. “Ring Shot,” “Super Mario Tennis,” “Galaxy Rally,” and “Ink Showdown.” Two of these mini-games are very forgettable while the other two are fairly interesting. “Ring Shot” basically sees you hitting a tennis ball back and forward through rings to hit a set amount of points before the timer runs out. “Ink Showdown” sees you trying to hit a ball past you opponent while trying to hit inky blobs that Piranha Plants spit at you before they hit the court and result in leaving you with an inky screen. “Galaxy Rally” is a bit more fun and sees you rally a ball back and forward with a Luma; however you cannot let the ball hit the same section of the court twice in a row as the ground disappears as the ball hits it. However by far the best of the bunch is “Super Mario Tennis” which sees you rally a ball back and forward against a wall which has a Super Mario Bros. level playing out on it. Players can earn points by hitting coins, ? blocks and general Mario enemies on the wall. Really it is a very fun and addicting mini-game. The sad thing in all this though is the fact the only way you can collect coins to spend on items in the shop to customize your Mii with is by playing these mini-games, which becomes tiring quite quickly when only two of the four mini-games are interesting.
Customizing your Mii should be a very fun aspect of “Mario Tennis Open” however between the somewhat boring mini-games you have to play to earn coins and the confusing aspect of just what each item actually does for your Mii, it really isn’t that enjoyable. The different types of items are split into four groups; rackets, kit, armbands, and shoes. The problem is, nice as these items all look, the game doesn’t properly explain what each item does. You get a confusing series of three different pie charts which try and show you what each bit of kit improves, but really it doesn’t do its job well at all and you’re left guessing what works and what doesn’t.
The only other aspect of the game I haven’t touched upon yet is the online play. Generally an opponent can be found fairly quickly and the game thankfully doesn’t seem to suffer any lag, which would have been completely game breaking. The online play includes a ranking system, much like you see in the Global Battle Union aspects of “Pokémon Black” and “Pokémon White” meaning you normally always end up facing opponents who are at the same kind of skill level as you and the general aim is to climb to the top of the leaderboard and prove you’re the very best Mario Tennis player out there. All in all the online just about makes up for the lack of features and challenges elsewhere.
In short: This is a very stripped down version of Mario Tennis which really brings it back to its roots and does work well as a simple and fun tennis game. Anyone looking for a simple Mario Tennis game with online features will be pleased, however if you’re looking for something with more depth the game sadly doesn’t really offer anything.