The Mario Tennis games from Nintendo and Camelot have a pretty devoted fan following based almost entirely on previous portable entries in the series, most notably the Gameboy Color and GBA titles that incorporated a single-player RPG mode that a lot of folks seem pretty attached to. It’s worth mentioning, then, that Mario Tennis Open doesn’t go back to that well at all. Instead, it’s more in line with more current Mario sports titles, but that doesn’t automatically make this a disappointment. In fact, I’ve had quite a bit of fun with the game so far.
At first glance it seems a little light on single-player content, but that really depends on how interested you are in unlocking all the stuff you can get to outfit your optional Mii character. The main single player mode involves participating in tournaments, eight in total, that consist of three rounds a piece. Each tournament is themed in a similar manner to the Mario Kart games, with titles like Flower Cup, Mushroom Cup, and so on. The courts will differ for each tournament, and each court has different properties affecting the bounce of the tennis ball, speed, and other properties. Pretty standard stuff found in most tennis video games, and not too surprising to anyone that’s ever played a Mario Tennis game before.
Besides the tournament games, there’s four mini-games to check out. Each mini-game has different difficulty tiers that get unlocked once you complete the previous one, and the final difficulties provide a light challenge that’ll test your ability to aim shots properly, and serve as a decent way to acclimated to the controls. Completing these four modes also serve as the way to unlock the additional characters in the game, and in general are pretty fun distractions from the main game. One mode in particular, which re-enacts the first world of the original Super Mario Bros. on NES, is a pretty cool idea.
Mario Tennis Open also incorporates some Street Pass functionality, which unfortunately I’ve not had the chance to check out yet. Basically if you match up with nearby players you’ll have the opportunity to challenge their Mii to a match of either standard tennis or a ring challenge pulled from the mini-game selection. It’s a neat no-frills idea that I hope to make use of at some point when the game is out in the wild.
There are a fair number of characters culled from the Mario universe, with lots of fan favorites like Waluigi, Donkey Kong Jr., Wario, Bowser, Boo and more. There’s also four unlockables, and overall the roster feels pretty decent. There are some notable omissions, and certainly pales in comparison to something like Smash Bros., but overall it’s not a bad line-up. Each character falls into different categories, like All Around, Technique, Power and Speed, which gives you a general idea of what their strength and weaknesses will be.
You can also opt to play as your Mii characters, pulling from any you’ve created on the 3DS system. Most of the unlockable content in Mario Tennis Open consists of additional costumes or clothing options for your Mii, which also affect your Mii’s playing ability, increasing those aforementioned categories found in the Mario Universe characters. There’s a ton of unlockable content for this feature, meaning that you’ll be constantly playing matches online and off if you ever hope to see it all. I’ve dropped nearly 10 hours into the game at this point, and still have stuff left to unlock.
The actual gameplay feels pretty good, with some changes made to the formula for this entry. The biggest change is the addition of gyro controls, which get activated if you hold your 3DS vertically in front of you as opposed to holding it down flat. When held up, the perspective of the match will switch from overhead to a more behind the shoulder view. When in this mode, you can move the 3DS system back and forth to control the direction of your shot, and your character will generally auto-move to get in a position to hit the ball. You can still manipulate your movement if you choose, but for the most part it’s pretty unnecessary.
Another addition comes from Chance Shots, which highlight a small circle on the field for you to step in and activate. While standing in one of these multi-colored circles, you can charge up an incoming hit and perform a high-powered lob, slice, drop shot, topspin, or flat shot. Each shot is color coded, which ties back into the optional touch screen controls that give you option to pull these shots off at any time. Still, using one of those shots while within the Chance Shot circle makes the move much more powerful and useful. If you’d rather not mess with touch screen controls, each shot can also be performed by the standard face buttons.
Chance Shots are used to keep the game from becoming a constant string of rallies back and forth between you and your opponent, and a well-positioned Chance Shot or combination of shots will often catch the CPU opponent off guard. They become even more useful when playing against the higher, optional difficulties, but they also serve a secondary purpose. A great tactic that you’ll come to use more and more, involves using the Chance Shot circle to fake out an opponent, offering up a completely different shot than the one telegraphed by the circle. This becomes especially useful when playing against online opponents.
The online portion of the game is a bit standard, offering up just simple one on one matches with no doubles play, which is an option for the single player portion of the game. Also, you can’t filter out opponents using the optional gyro-controls, which is kind of disappointing. I’ve played and won matches both with the gyro-controls on and off, so it’s kind of hard to say if they create a clear advantage, but taking out the need to move when using the gyro-controls does seem to remove a little bit of the challenge.
For online play you’ll have the option to create exhibition rooms for something more akin to player matches, and then there’s the ability to be randomly matched up against other players for ranked play. You can also choose to play longer matches that require multiple sets to be completed, or just go for a tie-breaker match that ends up being much quicker.
I didn’t have a lot of difficulty getting into matches, but did encounter a bit of noticeable visible lag when playing a handful of matches. How prevalent this will be after release remains to be seen, as the game isn’t in a lot of hands just yet, but keep in mind that the online play isn’t what I’d call flawless. Local play is certainly fine, but online seems a little rough.
Finally, the actual tennis gameplay is certainly easier than other popular titles, like SEGA’s Virtua Tennis series or even Sony’s Hot Shots Tennis title. It’s very difficult to flub a shot, like knocking it out of bounds or hitting the net, but it’s also not completely devoid of challenge. The higher difficulties provide some tight matches between yourself and the CPU, and the use of Chance Shots to outsmart your opponent become a key mechanic when playing through the second set of four tournament cups. Overall it feels very much like most modern Nintendo titles, easy enough to get into for newcomers, but with some lasting appeal for fans willing to delve into the nuances of the game.
Is it worth picking up? I’d say definitely so, provided you have some interest in unlocking content and playing against friends. I wish the online play felt a little smoother, but for the most part the experience comes off as extremely polished, and the new mechanics are interesting enough to breathe some new life into the series. I even enjoyed the new gyro controls, and found myself switching back and forth between that and the standard overhead view pretty often. This might not be the heftiest title in the 3DS line-up content wise, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had here.