Mario tennis Aces is the eight entry in the Mario Tennis series and the first to appear on Nintendo’s Switch console. It follows some fairly mediocre installments, with Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash being the latest, and should start service on 22 June. In anticipation of this release, Nintendo opened up the online tournament mode to all comers this weekend. So we strapped on our tennis shoes to try it out.
The online tournament beta is an open affair that throws competitors into the competitive element of Mario Tennis Aces. While we didn’t get to try out the offline or story situations, we did get a feeling for the fundamental gameplay. The good news is that it seems like things are finally getting better for Mario’s sporting endeavors. While Mario Tennis has not quite lived up to fan expectations for several years now, Mario Tennis Aces seems to rectify that.
The same rouges gallery of contestants is, of course, back for this round of tennis. Mario, Peach, Yoshi, and Bowser are available to pick from straight away. Other characters like Luigi, Rosalina, and Waluigi open up as you progress, winning tournaments and scoring account points. The most basic areas of character control, and gameplay, also remain unchanged for this installment. Players can move their avatar around a brightly lit arena using the analog control sticks and lob balls across the clay, in an effort to leave your opponent bewildered and lost at the wrong end of the court. Like any tennis title, you can pull off a number of shots, pushing dropshots, backhands, slices, and powerful volleys into various zones. These shots are all mapped to their own keyset and the game’s tutorial does an excellent job of ensuring that you understand these before getting anywhere near live matches.
While things are easy to understand, for newcomers, Mario Tennis Aces managed to take that gameplay and build ion it with a few extra elements. The game’s new energy system allows Mario and his cohorts to charge shots with extra attack, building up an energy gauge. This energy, much like a beat em up, powers a range of offensive and defensive skills, from Zone and Special Shots. Zone shots are powerful skills that fire a supercharged return the ball to a specific area of enemy territory. Special Shots are even more ridiculously overpowered and can unleash a character specific move that is able to even break an opponents racket entirely.
If this all sounds a little street fighter, then you would probably be correct. Mario Tennis is almost a combat sport and while you can block some of the game’s more powerful attacks, the aforementioned energy bar also unlocks defensive attributes. Energy can be siphoned off to slow down time and even perform trick shots., dancing around the court at super speed.
In general, the balance and gameplay design here is just about right. Mario Tennis Aces mixes a classic game with a control system that is as simple or complex as you want to make it. The same strategic element that we’ve come to expect from Mario Tennis games is still there, and the pace of play means that you’ll want to jump back in for just one more round.
It isn’t all about the way Mario handles, however. Nintendo injects some much-needed flair and showmanship to tournaments. Each Character comes complete with a set of steps that are individually crafted to embody their personality. Winning poses, defeated guffaws, and some flashy special moves all make it a delightful watch. Waluigi’s Special move proves a fitting personal favorite here, as his initial inception was for Mario Tennis.
Although all of these systems make for a fantastic game, Online Tournament mode is certainly not perfect yet. Latency of any kind can make the game virtually unplayable, and resulted in more than a few dropped points during my experience. Matchmaking brackets do also seem to be a little wide at the moment. This could simply be due to available opponents, but I am hesitant to brush it off so quickly.
Despite being pummelled by players several thousand points above me, I had a great time serving up some aces in this Mario Tennis demo. It is a charming game, that plays well to its audience. The characters that cross the court are just brimming with personality and the gameplay is a fair mix of strategy and timing. If the offline elements of this game mode are half as good as Golf Story then this will be a great return to court for Mario Tennis.