As it’s coming up to the Olympics, it’s possibly the best time to ask yourself, just who is the best athlete of all time? The one who doesn’t let age get in the way, the one who is a hero of numerous sports like golf, basketball and baseball, the one whose younger self could chase your behind off the court and hand it back to you on an oversized racket. That’s right, it’s Mario and he’s back to smash some balls in Camelot’s Mario Tennis: Open for the 3DS.
The years have been kind to him too, as it makes good use of the hardware to deliver some impressive visuals, easily surpassing anything you’ll find on the Wii. What makes it so strong is the high quality textures, fluid animations and wide range of visual effects, such as the ball glowing brighter the harder you hit it – giving a good (albeit sadistic) idea of how much pain your opponent feels when it smacks them square in the chest. Despite the negativity about 3D, the game pulls it off quite well, really coming into its own on the menu presentation, as well as the motion-controlled view, which sees the camera lurk over your character’s shoulder for a more up close seat.
This camera mode is controlled using the 3DS’ gyroscope, Nintendo’s toy they’ve decided to cram into every one of their games. You swivel your body around to aim your shots while the game automatically attempts to move your character – usually in the opposite direction to the ball. This could get frustrating, especially since to use the 3D you need to keep the system held in front of you and completely miss Miami Man attempting to bite off your face.
None of this is helpful if you’re trying to win one of the latest tournaments, which make up the body of the single-player game. There are eight cups in total, each bringing a new court environment and bigger challenges than before; unfortunately you won’t notice this change until the final cup, when the opponents suddenly up their game and start smashing you off the court. The latter half of the tournaments can only be played by using the ‘Star’ version of your character, which is unlocked by earning the first four trophies. These special versions of the characters don’t seem to really serve much purpose besides to boast of how much better you are than the other amateurs, so it’s a little perplexing as to why they included them at all.
If you’re tired of working your way to the top, you can set up a one-off match in Exhibition Mode, which allows you to fully customise your playing experience, whether that’s five sets of paedophilia with Baby Peach (and by paedophilia, we mean doubles) or a quick chance to bully Luigi, the wimp. While the matches are one-offs, it acts as a nice distraction on a bus ride without having to be constantly worried about your tournament place. It’s also useful for trying out different control methods; though choosing your shots using the touch screen makes as much sense as an ape with a tennis racquet. It’s hard enough to judge where the ball will land without having to take your eyes off the action in order to return it. Not that the various shots make much of a difference, outside of the Chance Shots, which are special shots similar to Power Shots from Mario Power Tennis. However, their regularity devalues them and makes the matches seem a little too short.
There’s another set of tournaments in the form of doubles, which see you and a partner taking on teams from across the Mushroom Kingdom. While the AI has improved over the previous titles, they still act a bit erratically, often hitting the Chance Shots while missing the balls that act like a racquet-seeking missile. This is probably intended to keep you focused but will likely get on your nerves at some point. A fun challenge is trying to steal your partner’s shots – give it a try! One perk of the Doubles mode is that the unlockables are more interesting and seem more powerful than those you unlock by yourself.
Before you can use these though, you have to buy them with coins earned in the mini-games. These range from guiding the ball through rings to playing your way through a tennis-controlled version of Super Mario Bros. The latter, while a cool idea can be quite difficult due to the precision aiming required and you might be put off quite early. Still, they’re a nice addition and whether you win or lose you’ll earn plenty of coins to spend in the Item Shop. If you do come out on top, then don’t think you’re done because there are plenty of new challenges to work through, finishing with a high score marathon that means it never truly ends.
The items available in the shop can only be applied to your Mii, but with the right amount of time and money can help create the Rafael Nadal of the Mushroom Kingdom. You can buy different shoes, outfits, sweatbands and racquets, but you only really see the effect of them when their stats are close to full. It’s such a gradual rise that you’ll hardly notice at all, but can be extremely helpful once you hit the multiplayer scene.
You can challenge other players both through local multiplayer and, for the first time in tennis history, online through the new Nintendo Network. The choice of match is between a seven-point tie breaker and a two-game set, but there are customisation options available if you, unlike us, have any friends, providing you with either a quick burst of fun or a drawn out grudge match. Beat a player and you’ll receive their beautiful face on a medal, which will be stored for your enjoyment on the game’s records screen. What would be nice in multiplayer is a way to speak to your fellow players, which seems an obvious thing to implement with the 3DS having a microphone, but given the basement-dwellers that occupy Xbox Live and the PSN, we can perhaps see why they left it out.
Much like the entirety of this review, the game’s soundtrack can be a little overdramatic, which could detract from your experience and concentration since tennis is traditionally viewed as a quiet sport and most courts don’t have a symphony orchestra next to them. However, the music itself is quite well composed, giving a new twist to some classic Mario tracks, and would be excellent if used in a more appropriate context. Despite only being used for the stereotypical grunts and shouts of tennis, the voice acting adds realism to both the characters and the sport. What’s really nice about this is that for the first noticeable time, your Mii has a voice, with manly grunts for males and girly squeals for the females.
Overall, Mario Tennis Open is a solid game with a ridiculous amount of content in such a small space and a ton of replayability. The game is let down by a general lack of difficulty, and the problem with tennis as a concept is that the games all end up feeling very familiar. However, this shouldn’t present a problem since the game offers enough new features to keep even the most seasoned players entertained.
Prepare to be served up another smashing tennis game. 8/10
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