Mario Tennis Open Review
Developer: Camelot Software Planning
To say that the Nintendo 3DS release schedule has been a little bit light as of late would be a massive understatement. After a fantastic start to the year with Resident Evil Revelations, Metal Gear Solid 3D and Mario Kart 7 things dried up in a very worrying way. Before Mario Tennis Open came out I hadn’t played a new game on my beloved 3DS since the end of March.
So it’s safe to say I was really very excited for a new game to play on my 3DS, and had a lot of high expectations for Mario Tennis Open. After all, the previews all looked good and I hadn’t read much negative press about it not to mention that that Mario Tennis series is usually one of the better Mario spin offs. So why do I set this down so soon after release?
The game itself is a lot of fun. The great thing about Mario Tennis is that it is very easy to just pick up and play. The controls are very simple and intuitive – you have your normal 6 tennis shots which are all mapped to the face buttons with Lob and Short Shot mapped to A->B and B->A, or you can use the touch screen to execute these same six shots by pressing the correct part of the screen that has been divided up into different colours to correspond to the shots.
The colours are actually really important as when your opponent takes their shot and the ball is coming towards you. Sometimes you will get a coloured ring in a space on the floor where the ball is going to fall. If you can get inside this ring and press the shot that has that colour attached, you will hit a special version of the shot that will fox your opposition and frequently get you an easy point. You can also make dive shots using the triggers which is useful for catching those tricky short shots that just trickle over the net.
There is also the option to use the gyroscope to aim your shots by moving the 3DS around to point in the direction you want the ball to go. Personally though, I got annoyed with this very quickly. It feels very loose, and I constantly found that my shots were going the wrong way as I moved the 3DS at the last second. I switched back to the classic tennis view within the first 20 minutes of playing.
In terms of the matches you have everything you would expect from any self respecting tennis-’em-up. You can do doubles and singles and in exhibition can choose any length of game you want, from something that will take you 5 minutes or a mammoth full match that can take over half an hour to win if you turn the difficulty all the way up. There is also a choice in surfaces that is supposed to change the amount of bounce the ball has and the speed at which it travels too. I haven’t found a significant difference in any surface and I’ve tried them all. Apart from the cool Nintendo themed courts, there is no difference in play from court to court.
The game modes are again a little bit by the numbers here as well. As is said, you can do an exhibition where you choose how to play, there is also a tournament mode. This is where you will spend most of your time if you want to unlock everything that the game has to offer.
The tournaments themselves are playable in both singles and doubles and follow a very similar template to Mario Kart with the difficulty slowly increasing as you work your way through each tourny. Unfortunately the tournaments are extremely short with only 3 matches before you win the trophy. This was fine for the first cup but I expected the length to increase with the difficulty. Alas it did not. The first 2 matches tend to be very short too so you can get through a whole tournament in as little as 15 minutes when playing the lower difficulty ones. I was really hoping for some kind of “world tour” type mode that would take me weeks to finish and in this area the game really lets itself down, as after only a few days with game I was saying to myself “OK what do I do now?”.
You also get a mode for “Special Games”. These are mini game type variations of tennis that you have to play to earn coins. And why, I hear you ask do you need coins? To buy the items you already spent time unlocking in other game modes.
It isn’t that these modes aren’t fun, far from it. There are some really cool time sinks here as my favourite being a mode where the idea is to hit your tennis ball against a wall as many times as you can. Which sounds dull, I know, but when that wall is playing an old school version of Mario and your ball hitting the wall controls Mario and collects coins with the aim being to complete the level, then it becomes a very addictive mini game indeed. It’s just that I already unlocked the items, so why do I then have to earn coins to use them? It doesn’t feel very fair to me.
There is also a multiplayer mode in there. I didn’t play much of this but explored it enough to know that it isn’t going change the world of online tennis gaming. I was expecting an experience similar Mario Kart 7 but once again Mario Tennis Open falls down here as it just isn’t polished enough in comparison. It is fun though, and when you have done everything that the game has to offer in single player it adds some extension to the games lifespan.
So it isn’t that Mario Tennis Open is a fundamentally bad game. As I’ve said, it is a lot of fun and has a good set of options, an interesting if predictable roster and looks as good as any other Mario game on the 3DS. It’s just that it lacks depth in a pretty big way. It really needed a “world tour” mode or some kind of career mode to give it some longevity. I know that isn’t the way with Nintendo sports games, but when you take into consideration how easy this game is – and when I say it’s easy I mean a thumbless 2 year old could beat it – it really feels like a massive let down after all the months of anticipation.
This is Mario’s first “miss” on 3DS and the first time in a long time I feel like the great Nintendo has let me down. A real shame.