Mario Tennis Aces Review
Mario Tennis Aces is hitting the Nintendo Switch at the exact right time, about half a year before Nintendo’s next major multiplayer title – Super Smash Bros Ultimate – and just a few months before Nintendo’s paid online access take affected. And this timing is incredibly important, because despite its shortcomings on single player content, Mario Tennis Aces is setting itself up to be one of Nintendo’s better online offerings in recent memory. With the promise of a robust online system, Mario Tennis Aces is about to hit the next level.
Our review score of 8.0/10 is subject to change until online servers are populated. It is a temporary score based on what we played.
If you’ve played the demo when it launched at the beginning of June, you’ll remember that the developers built in a really great tutorial before you took part in your first online match. The tutorial taught all the basic shots mapped to A, B, and Y, as well as the special lob and short shots mapped to X. Players learned about zone shots, blocking zone shots to preserve their racket strength (a few hits and your racket breaks, knocking you out of the match), and of course the patented unique player shots. The game also adds a ton of defensive measures as well that actually give players the ability to defend against previously unbeatable shots, including the ability to slow down time, and dive quickly across the court to grab a ball seemingly out of reach.
The balancing between offensive and defensive play has never been better in any Mario sports titles, which so often in the past has favored the serving (attacking) player. The matches I played – both with AI and human opponents – were more even than ever before, which made my time with the game even more enjoyable.
When the retail game launches, the tutorial will cease to exist as a stand alone moment, and instead is folded nicely into the games Adventure Mode. Not only will you learn the basics of the game – as well as advanced shots – but you will also get a taste for the story you will encounter when playing through the games single player campaign.
The other game modes won’t even unlock for player until the first two levels of Adventure Mode have been completed. On top of that, the more exciting and unique courts you might want to play with friends don’t even unlock until you’ve beaten the corresponding worlds in the single player campaign, which will be fine for some, and incredibly frustrating for others. So what is adventure mode, and is it worth the time to unlock new courts?
The primary focus of Mario Tennis Aces is unsurprisingly on the tennis, so while the length of the single player campaign may seem short to some veteran players – under 6-7 hours to complete – it isn’t the reason why you buy the game. If it is, take a hard pass as this won’t live up to your expectations. For more casual fans, the Adventure Mode is small in terms of number of levels, but the increase in difficulty as you move throughout the story will keep you playing for quite a while!
Each world is generally – although we won’t spoil any twists and turns! – broken down into a set number of levels:
1. An introductory level that allows you access to the world. For World 1, it means beating Donkey Kong before you can enter the forest, and in World 2, it means beating Koopa Troopa before taking his boat over to the next Island.
2. Two optional levels that pit you against various Mario Kingdom characters in a challenge. In World 1, you will try to rally to 200 points with Toad, and hit 20 balls past Spike to earn a new racket. These levels are always optional, but having additional tennis rackets and more stat points for Mario is incredibly valuable.
3. There is an additional level that ‘guards’ the boss level, which often is a round of tennis against a formidable foe, on a unique court. In World 2, for example, it is a battle against Boo, but the regular court is made difficult by magic mirrors that float over the net. Hit it into one, and it comes flying out of the other.
4. Finally, there is always a boss fight, and overall these fights are pretty interesting. Once you figure out the weakness of the boss, finishing the level becomes fairly easy. But they all feel a bit different, which is refreshing from world-to-world. Make sure you’ve mastered the block techniques for zone shots, however, as you won’t survive otherwise!
Again, the number of levels per world seems insignificant, but the time it will take to beat some of these levels for a casual players will be long. The ultimate test will be whether or not the difficulty ramps up so much, that weaker players give up entirely, and miss out on the opportunity to unlock additional courts for playing locally with others. To compensate for that increased difficulty, Nintendo built in an RPG system for Mario’s stats. Experience is earned in victory or defeat, so if something troubles you long enough, the thought process is that you’ll be able to complete it with a stronger, more capable Mario.
While I never felt that panned out as well as Nintendo had hoped – probably because the short campaign life doesn’t allow you to fully realize the RPG elements – for a player struggling long enough on a certain level, a few increased attribute points in key areas could ultimately propel someone to victory.
The entire mode is enjoyable and ultimately rewarding when you realize you finally have beaten it all. That being said, one minor – which felt major when trying a level for the umpteenth time – beef had be almost throw my controller: the lack of a replay option when failing a level. Instead of building in that user friendly feature, you will be forced to return to the over world map, re-enter the level, and look at the same (although skipable) dialogue as before. Just vie me a retry button Nintendo, please!?
The mode also lacks that immersive experience that makes Mario titles so fantastic: no great cut scenes when obtaining stones or rackets, and a lack of presentation outside of the levels themselves does detract from the experience. Adventure Mode is not the reason you buy Mario Tennis Aces, and although I ultimately had fun playing through it, it hard to justify a AAA price if that is all you are looking for.
The other single player experience built into Mario Tennis Aces is the games tournament mode. Much like the online demo that debuted in early June – although offline and single player – players will pick a player and then play through a number of rounds in hopes of winning the associated cup. In the Mushroom cup, games are shorter and easier, but as you move into the other cups, the opponents become much harder and the matches much longer.
While I enjoyed playing through the tournaments, they felt a bit anti-climatic for me. Unlike in Mario Kart where you can earn stars and different color trophies, on top of vehicles parts and and more, Mario Tennis Aces offers up almost nothing. In fact, there isn’t even a special trophy presentation at the end to give you that sense of accomplishment for coming out on top. The rest of the tournament presentation is fantastic, from the crowds watching the matches, to the Toad announcers doing commentary. It is well written and the presentation is fantastic. That’s what makes the end of tournament moments that much more disappointing.
As of the time of writing this review, the online servers were not populated enough to get an accurate representation of what wait times and experiences would be like. For the time being, we refer to our enjoyable demo time and will update this review accordingly. The only online problems we had during the demo was the amount of lag because of poor connections.
Once all the glitz and glamour of the single player adventure wears off, and once you’ve completed all the included tournaments, your long term enjoyment of Mario Tennis Aces will come down to playing with those around you. And to that end, Mario Tennis Aces delivers 10 times over. As we noted earlier, the perfectly balanced and incredibly deep gameplay easily sets this title up as the best in the franchise, and that truly shines when playing against family and friends right in your living room.
Whether playing on traditional tennis courts – grass, dirt, etc. – or playing on one of the courts with a Mario Kingdom, fantasy twist, there is a ton to enjoy when playing against those around you. And for those wondering if Mario Tennis Aces is something they’ll play for months and years to come – ala Mario Kart, for example – it will come down to how much you plan to play with others, or online. The single player content might keep you entertained for a few weeks, but there is a definite end to that experience. Thankfully, Nintendo has created a deep game that is easily picked up by all to entice players to continue enjoying the experience, long after exhausting the single player elements.
Motion control tennis – as you will play in Swing Mode – will allow players to use one Joy-Con controller to mimic the movements of a tennis racquet to hit the balls back and forth. Using button presses will alter your shots, and you can easily move with the analog stick. Swinging at the ball, however, is entirely up to you. Timing was an issue at times as I often experienced a bit of input lag, but when both players experience the same frustrations, it makes for an even match none-the-less. It’s a fun extra mode that will likely be enjoyed by a large segment of those purchasing Mario Tennis Aces. I know my 8 year old prefers to play this way.
Mario Tennis Aces is not Mario Kart, and it likely never will be. But it does provide the same local fun that keeps you coming back week after week, month after month, and even year after year. The strong tennis mechanics makes every match feel competitive, but fair, and for the first time in the franchise, there seems to be an equal balance between offense and defense. The inclusion of a strong single player campaign adds to the value for those looking for both experiences. If single player is all you hope to play, perhaps taking a pass on hi title or picking up on sale is a better option. For those that want the complete package, you still have a few days left to preorder!
Are you ready to hit the court this Friday?