Released on: June 22 2018
Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Price: $79.99 CDN ($59.99 US)
Full disclosure: I am not a fan of sports games. I see no difference between FIFA 19 and FIFA 20, for example. One series of sports games I did like was Mario Tennis. Ever since I played the Nintendo 64 version, I found the games to be surprisingly enjoyable. When Mario Tennis Aces was released, I decided to pick it up. I skipped the Wii U version since I heard it was disappointing, so I opted for the Switch version instead. Was Mario Tennis Aces a return to greatness?
As soon as the game loads, the player is thrust into a heated tennis game between Team Mario (Mario and Peach) versus Team Bowser (Bowser and Bowser Jr.) with Team Mario emerging victorious. To congratulate them, Wario and Waluigi attempt to give Mario a mysterious tennis racket, but Luigi takes it before Mario has a chance to grab it. Suddenly the racket comes to life, envelops Luigi in mummy wrapping, and takes over his body. It turns out, the racket houses an evil spirit named Lucien. Lucien then dares Mario to complete a series of tennis challenges to collect six magic jewels and save his brother. At this point, the player has the chance to back out of the story, or continue this tennis based tale. The story is silly. A possessed tennis racket takes over Luigi to which the player has to collect magical McGuffins to save the day? Ridiculous!
Mario Tennis Aces’ graphics are serviceable. Mario and friends look spiffy in their tennis gear. The tennis courts all look lovely, and the crowd is sufficiently active. That said, there isn’t anything noteworthy about the graphics either. Some of the courts in story mode look nice, but they are often too gimmicky to play on reliably.
If there is anything that Mario Tennis Aces needs to get right, it’s how it plays. Fortunately, Mario Tennis Aces has some of the most gripping, fascinating, and fast-paced tennis gameplay I have ever played. Right from the get-go, the player will notice that their character has a meter next to their icon. This meter charges with every charged return of the ball. When it is full, the player can use some of their meter to perform a special shot. If the opponent doesn’t time their return correctly, their racket gets damaged. If the player’s meter is full, they can use all of it to perform a super special shot. A mistimed return of a super special shot results in an instantly broken racket. When the racket takes too much damage, it will break. A broken racket gives a point to the opposing player… unless they run out of rackets, in which case, they outright lose the match. The racket health mechanic adds a lot of depth to, what usually is, a simple game of tennis. One player could be a full set behind, but if they manage to break all of their opponent’s rackets, they will win the game no matter how badly they were losing. If the ball is too far to return, they can use some of their meter to slow down time, and guarantee it gets returned. Returning the ball using a defensive special does not protect the player from a broken racket, however. For a game of tennis, there is a lot of strategy that goes into just playing the game.
One other thing that stuck with me is the intensity of the presentation. When either player (or team) is about to win the game (Match Point) or a set (Set Point), the music gets intense, and there is a heart-pounding sound effect with enhanced bass when serving. The heart-pounding in the game accurately reflects mine when I get to this point. When the player is down to their last racket and is just one super special shot away from losing it, the pressure is on. Even when playing the game without special shots, Mario Tennis Aces is incredibly fast-paced. The players always have to read their opponents, try to trip them up, even out play them by sending the ball to an impossible to return area of the court. I’ve heard a lot of people compare Mario Tennis Aces to a fighting game, and I would be inclined to agree.
Even though Mario Tennis Aces is intense, there are a lot of things that it could improve…
For instance, the story mode itself, while hilarious in how silly it is, feels repetitive. I remember back on the Game Boy Color; there was a Mario Tennis game where the player could create their avatar and level up said avatar by playing the story mode. I was hoping for a modern take on this formula in Mario Tennis Aces. While completing missions or losing matches in story mode will level Mario up, the player cannot customize where the skill points go. The only thing the player can change on Mario is his racket. The different rackets do offer different stats and health, but that’s it.
To enjoy Mario Tennis Aces to its fullest, I would recommend playing it with friends. With story mode being so lackluster, playing Mario Tennis Aces solo feels shallow. The only thing the player can unlock is the different courts found in story mode. While these do offer a few gimmicks that the players have to keep in mind, I tend to gravitate towards the regular court available from the beginning. I find the gimmicks in the story mode courts to be far too distracting to play effectively. It is worth noting that the player can turn off hazards in the story mode courts, which is nice.
The online mode has some serious issues. If the player’s connection is less than four bars, they will notice the lag. The way Mario Tennis Aces handles lag is atrocious. I have had games that had almost a full second delay. For a high-intensity game like Mario Tennis Aces, a poor netcode is inexcusable.
If I judged Mario Tennis Aces solely on its gameplay, it would be a smash hit. Sadly, with the lacking single-player content, repetitive story mode, and issues regarding online play, Mario Tennis Aces offers little incentive for players to come back to after playing it a couple of times. If there is a significant price reduction, a sale, and enjoyed with friends or family, then I would recommend it. As is, Mario Tennis Aces’ full price feels steep.