Mario Tennis Open
Mario Tennis Open feels like a big step back for Nintendo. After the refreshing (but hand cramp-inducing) Kid Icarus Uprising got 3DS owners excited for the future of the platform, this latest in the long line of Camelot developed titles lands about as well as any of my real life tennis shots.
As most reviewers have been rightly pointing out the game’s single player content is extremely thin on the ground. There are eight straightforward tournaments to be played in both singles and doubles plus four mini-games. That’s it.
The former can be blown through in no time at all. There are three stages per tournament ladder which are comprised of very short matches up until the last couple of cups. To give you an idea of just how brief this is I managed to win all eight singles trophies with my Mii character within two hours. Part of this brevity can be owed to the seemingly low difficultly of the computer controlled A.I. who rarely managed to return any of my shots until the fifth tournament in.
The four mini-games are the highlight of the package largely due to the excellent Super Mario Tennis mode in which you play through levels from the original Super Mario Brothers but with a racket and ball. An interactive wall scrolls through four levels from the NES classic and you have to volley against it, extending your time limit long enough to reach the end of each level by hitting enemies and coins and grabbing power ups. Sadly, there are only four levels to this and each of the other mini-games so you’ll truck through these within a couple of hours also.
The two previous portable entries in the Mario Tennis series featured robust story modes set in a tennis academy that combined RPG style levelling and character customisation. This is completely absent here with the only customisation being the ability to equip your Mii player with statistic altering unlockable gear. While this is better than forcing you to stick with the non-customisable Mario characters the omission of an RPG element or any kind of story mode is still a massive oversight.
Camelot and Nintendo seem to be banking on you spending most of your time with the game’s multiplayer which admittedly has been one of the series’ biggest draws. To facilitate this they’ve provided single cartridge wireless play for you and up to three local 3DS owning friends.
In a first for the series online multiplayer via wi-fi is available though it’s an extremely limited affair. Whether you’re playing with randoms or those on your dashboard level friends list you’re stuck playing either a tiebreaker round or a two game set. There is no proper in-game friends list or invite system just a rubbish lobby menu that only shows friends currently playing Mario Tennis Open online. You’re pretty much stuck making arrangements with your buddies outside of the game and the system. So yeah, Nintendo still haven’t figured out online play.
Also, Camelot have once again missed the opportunity add some worthwhile co-operative play by letting you and a friend to compete in the doubles tournaments. None of the Mario Tennis games have allowed for this so I didn’t expect it here yet it continues to be a baffling omission.
On the subject of omissions the over the top powers shot moves from the previous Mario Power Tennis games have been dropped. Although these flashy special moves were controversial amongst series fans, in retrospect they seem like a minor niggle compared to what has replaced them.
The new chance shots manifest as large circles on the court within the path of the ball. By standing on them and hitting the X button your player will activate super-charged versions of existing shots which tend to be extremely difficult to return or even reach. The powered up top spin and lob shots, for example, will curve in a ridiculously wild manner, requiring the receiver to be in a very specific spot to be able to reach them.
Chance shots completely dictate the course of every match whether you like it or not. If you choose to ignore them in favour of your standard shots you’re putting yourself at a massive disadvantage as your opponent will likely still go for theirs. As such, you’re funnelled into a very narrow way of playing that doesn’t require any thought. The series was never a deep or sim-like tennis experience but the core principals and strategies of the sport were always at work. Now, simply running over the glowy circles and hitting X will pretty much carry you through the whole experience.
And no, there isn’t an option to turn off the chance shots. Say what you will about Mario Power Tennis’ power shots, at least they could be disabled for exhibition matches against the computer or your friends. Heck, even when enabled they were far less frequent than chance shots, only being usable once per rally. Even with their lengthy animations they didn’t dominate the action nor dumb down the game play.
Is there anything the game really excels at? Well, the presentation is worth mentioning as it’s one of the best looking game on the 3DS. That said, any one familiar with the Gamecube version of Mario Power Tennis will notice a large amount of recycled models, animations and voice samples. While it’s interesting to see Gamecube calibre graphics running flawlessly on the system, it’s another element that Nintendo and Camelot have copped out on.
To sum up, Mario Tennis Open is more disappointing than Tim Henman. The lack of any improvements or successful innovations over its ageing predecessors is bad enough. Failing to include any sort of campaign and dumbing down the classic Mario Tennis game play; that’s just unforgivable.