I’m glad I got to write gamrReview’s critique of Mario Tennis Open. That’s because the game brings to light one of the issues I have with the way game reviews are widely perceived. Lately, many readers view an eight out of ten as the lowest score whereby a game can be considered ‘good.’ I don’t like this trend. Were I in the business of writing reviews when they were first released, I would have given some of my favourite games of all time sixes and sevens, or lower. Gauntlet Legends on N64? Extremely fun multiplayer, punishing grind in single-player — 6.5. Breakdown on the original Xbox? Involving story and innovative first-person fistfighting, but horrible aiming controls and dumb enemies — 7.0. Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects for last-generation consoles? Fast-paced superhero-on-superhero carnage marred by glitches and dull single-player — 5.0. Those are three of my favourite games, bar none. Eight is great, nine is sublime, and 10 is a unicorn that gamrReview has so far failed to wrangle up for one of our reviews. However, a score in the sixes still means that the game’s redeeming features overshadow any issues. So, keep in mind that the 6.5 I’ve awarded Mario Tennis Open means that, while it doesn’t stand up to the very best the industry has to offer, I do, truly, like the game.
At its core, the game does what it says on the box, putting you in the shoes (or, in some cases, snappy neckties) of a character from the Mario universe for another round of tennis. However, the big hook this time around is the ability to play as your Mii, which is certainly the route I went with for most of my playtime. I’ve got to say, the game gets points for being the first Mii game I’ve seen that actually lets you move them around manually, so kudos for that.
As far as the actual tennis matches go, it’s an entertaining formula that mixes the traditional sport with the strategy of a game of rock-paper-scissors. You’ve got different buttons (physical or virtual) for different kinds of swings, and you’ll want to try to stay a step ahead of your opponent by serving and returning in an unpredictable manner. Holding the button slightly longer charges your swing at the risk of potentially letting the ball bounce past you. The additional strategy comes into play with the small, colored circles that occasionally appear on your side of the court. If you hit the ball from inside the circle with the swing that corresponds to that color, you’ll execute a move that is very difficult to retaliate against. When you’re on the receiving end of one of these Chance Shots, you’ll have to return the ball with the opposite shot type from the one your opponent used, or you will be momentarily made dizzy and left open for another assault. There is a definite learning curve, as it takes a while to learn which colors correspond to which shot type, but it does make for some intense, fast-paced matches.
The biggest problem with the game is that there’s no real sense of progression. Outside of tournaments and a couple of interesting mini-games, there’s really not much for a single player to do in this game. I guess it’s a problem that plagues most sports titles, but previous handheld Mario sports games have typically featured a light story-based campaign to play through — something that is sorely missing in this installment. The poor incentive to keep playing here is that each match unlocks a new piece of clothing that you can purchase for your Mii, which augments abilities like Power and Speed. After you beat the sixteen tournaments (eight single, eight double), there really isn’t much reason to keep playing on your own. As mentioned, the four minigames on offer are entertaining, with the highlight being a full-fledged version of Super Mario Bros. that you play by hitting the ball at coins, enemies, pipes, and powerups. However, none of them are the type of thing you’d want to come back to more than (perhaps) twice.
Multiplayer does make up for some of the deficiencies of the single-player mode, however. Playable locally via single or multi-card play, or online for the first time in the series, the unpredictable nature of human opponents makes them much more interesting to square off against than the AI. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to test any local multiplayer. The online mode, while fun, has many of the same deficiencies we’ve come to expect from a networked Nintendo game. When playing with strangers, you can select to play either a single best-of-seven round or a full, single-set game. Those are the only two options. If you’re looking for an epic, five-set match, you’re out of luck when playing online.
The other issue when it comes to online play regards both control and the camera angle. If you hold your 3DS flat while playing, you see an overhead view of the entire court. However, holding the system directly in front of your face pulls the view up to behind your character’s back. The option of switching between the two views is appreciated, but randomly switching views mid-match just by slightly moving your hand is annoying. What’s more, when you switch to the behind-the-back view, your character starts moving automatically toward the best spot to return the ball, which removes a lot of the fun. You can turn this view off, but there is no way to stop your online opponent from using it, which is a huge deterrent from returning to this mode.
Mario Tennis Open certainly looks respectable, with the characters all looking like themselves and an assortment of varied courts to play in. When the game pauses for a replay of an incredible shot, it certainly does look impressive. You can tell that this wasn’t one of Nintendo’s top-priority games, though, as Mario certainly doesn’t animate as fluidly as in Super Mario 3D Land. The colorful soundtrack heats up and gets more intense as a match approaches the game point, though it’s not something you’ll be humming to yourself once you turn off the game.
So I hope my point has gotten across here. I really did enjoy my time with the game, as the core tennis gameplay is rock-solid and the addition of chance shots means you always have a shot at a spectacular comeback. The problem is that everything else could have used some extra time — more customization options for multiplayer and a story mode for single-player should have been there as a matter of course. Mario Tennis Open is certainly not a shining example of a perfect video game, and thus it doesn’t land in the same scoring realm as some of our top-rated 3DS titles, such as Resident Evil Revelations, Super Mario 3D Land, or Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition. That said, don’t let that deter you if you’re looking for an entertaining arcade sports game that is very good at the few things that it does do.