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Mario Tennis - VC Review

Game Info
Mario Tennis

Virtual Console | Nintendo / CAMELOT | 1-4 Players (local multiplayer/co-operative play) | Out Now | 1,000 Nintendo Points
Controller Compatibility: Classic Controller; GameCube Controller
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22nd May 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

If someone were to ask if you thought Nintendo served up a hit with the original Mario Tennis, how would you respond? You're right, that is a bit of a trick question. If it wasn't a hit, we wouldn't have had new iterations to look forward to as we do now. In all seriousness, though, with later titles having improved upon the original considerably -- even dramatically in some cases -- have these changes diminished Mario Tennis' relevance? Not at all. Even though I personally don't see how some formed such an undying attachment to this game, Mario Tennis is a respectable game that tennis fans both new and old would want to revisit.

    The game features Mario's usual band of characters, with Donkey Kong, Wario, Baby Mario, and Peach being the usual. In addition, Mario Tennis marks Waluigi's first initiation into the Mario universe period, as well as the re-appearances of then-obscure characters, Birdo and Daisy. Each character has their own play style, ranging from Speedy, Technical, Power and All-Around. This gives characters different attributes in terms of general shot strength, movement during charge shots, and services. This was an early decision that was later expanded upon with future iterations in the franchise where each character not only had play styles unique to them, but also their own special moves that separated them from the rest.

    Getting out onto the court, players might be surprised to find that the controls are surprisingly fluid. Part of the reason for this is because of the similar control layout as Mario Power Tennis (when using the GameCube controller, that is). The A Button is used for topspin, B is to slice, pressing A then B will perform a lob, and doing the exact opposite will result in a drop shot close to the net. To add even more drive to your shot, there are two different techniques you can employ. The first is the Charge Shot, done by holding down the button for the shot you wish to produce and releasing with good timing for a faster result. This move will leave you vulnerable, so it would be wise to prepare your stance as soon as you realize where the ball is headed instead of doing so before your opponent hits the ball. To indicate that a player is in the process of charging the ball, you'll sometimes see sparks and assorted effects coming from your character and/or the racket.

In continuation, the second technique involves pressing the A or B Button twice in a row to add greater power and reach to your shot, proving especially effective when it's done close to the net. One final strategy is made clear for you whenever a star shape appears on the court. This is an opportunity for a smash return, which can be done with a well-timed shot while standing really close to or within that marked area. But you know, even with these different possibilities, the game comes across as a simple-to-play tennis game that players can fairly easy jump into and not have to worry so much about strategy (at least initially).

    In terms of play options, you have your obligatory Exhibition Mode as well as a three-tier Tournament you can enroll in to unlock characters and earn a Star upgrade. What else does the game offer besides these main options? Well, Ring Shot is a longstanding tradition that was also shared with the Mario Golf series, but in this particular instance, players have five different variations on this gameplay alternative whereby you can score a win by sending your ball through hoops that increase in size but decrease in value as the turns pass. Then there's Bowser Stage, where item boxes are situated atop the net in the center allowing players to use shells, bananas, and some other fun stuff to throw off their opponents. Whether playing this mode in Singles or Doubles, I found it was messy and not terribly fun to play. But at the same time, I could see why some might return to this once in a while. The other mode is Piranha Challenge, which has you firing balls back at three of the ball-shooting plants, being sure not to allow your rival to fire it back onto your side of the court. This, too, wasn't all that great, but unlike Bowser Stage, I didn't see myself coming back to it at all.

The additional gameplay modes don't stop there, as the Special Games menu offers a couple other options you can involve yourself in. Demo Mode is the one that stands out the most just because of how stupid of an inclusion it is. I mean really, why would you want to just watch the computers play? Aside from that, there's also a Short Game and Tiebreaker option, both of which require a second player to participate in. Yes, overall, there's quite a bit to supplement the normal tennis experience. However, those who played the original cartridge might be disappointed to find that some of the rewards they once worked towards will no longer be attainable in the VC release, which is an understandable disappointment. This includes Ring Tournament, as well as characters and courts from the Transfer Pak-compatible GBC release.

    As for the core experience itself, Mario Tennis makes no major flaws in its gameplay. The pace feels nice, there's good ball control, and there honestly isn't that much to complain about. As touched on already, there's nothing complicated about it even in spite of the fact that there are multiple moves you can experiment with to psych out your rival. Even still, the AI can be quite tough at times, giving you a reason to celebrate when you do overcome their tenacious play methods. I will say that I noticed there were times when a Fault was not called when it should have been, which led me to realize that the allowance window isn't as strict as you might expect. Having said that, it does seem like there's a bit of a double standard over narrow misses versus those that clearly shouldn't have been accepted. And in the heat of an intense battle where every point counts, this can be irritating to have to deal with.

There is a caution that I'd like to address, and that is that the game can lose its level of fun factor if you come up against a particularly difficult opponent and aren't prepared for their constant attempts to blindside you. It can be a bit surprising to encounter if you go through match after match with opponents that seem like such pushovers, and then you just come up against this formidable enemy out of the blue. I know for myself, there was a point where I was not having fun even though I was able to hold my own after a while. There is something to be said about the fact that the game isn't successful at maintaining this fun factor all the way through.

    Sometimes Mario Tennis can be frustrating, and maybe it's not always because of the difficult AI. Depending on the player, the number of shots that wind up hitting the net due to incorrect timing may end up discouraging your efforts to stay toe to toe with someone. In other situations, it might just be that a particular character you're up against is using seemingly cheap, almost unexpected deliveries in their returns. It's something worth taking note of if you're thinking about jumping into this experience, but I wouldn't go so far as to say it pulls it down enough to push you away entirely.

    Sadly, presentation is one area where the game does not do very well. The music is pretty good but not particularly outstanding, I found. I will say, too, that some of the characters sound off (e.g., Luigi), and I also failed to see why a camera change should impact the volume the announcer carries. Specifically from the standpoint of graphics, the game features some dated and unattractive character models. The audience members in the stands and the trophies seen during victory ceremonies don't look a whole lot better, either. What makes all of this especially damning is the fact that other N64 titles (even ones by Nintendo themselves!) have shown that much better is indeed possible, and for the game to underperform in this area is a tad embarrassing and most definitely inexcusable.

    Overall, Mario Tennis delivers in its gameplay enough that fans of the sport or attempted recreations thereof can make peace with the areas where the game falters. You may still find, after playing this, that you have better tennis games in your collection you can turn to. But if you're like me and love tennis games, it's easy to have a "Why not?" sort of attitude about buying it. Whatever the case, even though $10 may seem like a bit much to spend, some will still find it worth revisiting even if they've played its superior follow-ups.

22/30 - Good

Gameplay 8/10 - Multiple techniques to employ, fluid controls make it easy to learn, different play styles, allowance window seems inconsistent at times
Presentation 6/10 - Hardly a looker, graphics don't look so good, unattractive character models, good soundtrack but not all that impressive
Enjoyment 4/5 - Mostly enjoyable but fun factor isn't maintained throughout, challenging AI, occasionally irritating due to minor gripes
Extra Content 4/5 - Bonus modes do exist but not all are great, VC release missing a few features, worth coming back to for multiplayer

Equivalent to a score of 73% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Mario Tennis
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