I’m still not sure what compelled me to buy Mario Tennis Aces. I harbour a loathing for sports games and Mario and I have never gotten along. Not for his lack of manners but rather my platforming ineptitude and inability to master the wide drift. Excited by “Swing Mode”, which looked reminiscent of Wii Tennis, I made the slightly rash purchase only to find Swing Mode is just a bit crap. Yet behind the flailing limbs and mad grins the advert had promised, there’s a really fun and very satisfying game.
“Swing Mode” is the Mario Tennis Ace’s party trick. It looks exactly like the sort of fun local multiplayer the Switch was made for. You can choose from the usual roster of characters and a selection of funky courts that you unlock through the adventure mode, the game’s story mode. Some courts feature hazards like the Mario plants that will eat the ball and spit it back while the pirate ship court breaks up the net with a ruddy great mast in the middle of it. There are options for doubles as well but you’ll need a lot of space to host all your friends as they whap their arms about. Sadly the motion controls aren’t as precise as the Wii’s so rather than your swing tracking directly onto your character, flicking the joycon simply triggers the swing animation. The controls just feel a bit naff in general and it’s very easy to mis-swing. Most of the game’s features are also simplified to fit this mode leaving you with a very poor imitation of Wii Tennis. Though perhaps there is some rose tinting of that particular game at play here.
Putting the gimmick of Swing Mode aside, there’s actually a very robust, very fun tennis game to be enjoyed and mastered. Jumping into Adventure mode I got grips with the actual systems of the game which for the most part had been stripped from Swing Mode. The story sees an evil tennis racket possess Waluigi and Wario who then kidnap Luigi. Your twin brother is in another tennis bag… You move between levels in a typical Mario hub world with each stage doing a pretty good job of actually encouraging you to master different skills of the game. In between tennis games against Mario’s rogues’ gallery there is a nice mix of tennis mini-games and even boss-fights that all require some knowhow with a racket to get past. I’ve had a lot of fun with adventure mode so far though there are one or two niggles as there is no option restart a level which can get very frustrating as the levels get harder. What’s more, the five power gems you are trying to collect appear to be missing assets and so the animation for finding some of them simply has you open an empty chest to great fanfare.
— Tercio7 (@xTROx) July 9, 2018
Despite these seemingly cut corners, games of tennis feel great. You’re rewarded for correct shot timing, the controls are simple to grasp but there’s depth to mastering shot combos and getting a hang of the trick shot and star shot systems. Managing your energy meter to pull off these power shots adds a good rhythm to the game. When you’re on the back foot you have to start burning energy to slow time in order to return the game’s more powerful shots. The thwack as racket meets ball on a well-timed shot is as satisfying as anything you’ll hear coming from coverage of Wimbledon.
The local multiplayer offerings seem good as you’re offered a wealth of options to customise the game when playing with friends. As you progress in the story mode you’ll unlock some quite funky maps for free-play. You choose whether you want an ultra-serious match in perfect stadium conditions on clay, grass and the other usual tennis surfaces or you want to try out the hazardous maps for a more chaotic game. I’ve only dabbled with the online section though I’ve heard some grumbling about the balance of different characters with Bowser Jr apparently being quite the ace.
The price of Mario Tennis Aces currently is pretty steep for what most people will get out of it. It’s best when played with friends. Long rallies become all about careful energy management, defensively slowing time to return star shots while saving enough energy to keep up the pressure up with your own aggressive shots. It’s easy to pick up and play in short bursts allowing you your train ride into a grand slam. I’ve had a good time with it so far and while I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it, if you’re looking for a light diversion this summer, you can’t go wrong here.
If you want more video game stuff, then check out Gav’s article on Murderous Pursuits, a multiplayer murder party. We’ll have more coverage of Switch specific content coming soon.
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