Mario Tennis Aces Review
Published on July 2, 2018
Mario Tennis Aces
Release Date: June 22, 2018
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Camelot Software Planning
Mario’s vacation to the world of tennis has always been one that fans of the plumber look forward to. Out of all of his sports-related escapades, the Mario Tennis series has the most installments and is one of the most beloved. The series is currently at a low point as the 2015 entry Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash was panned for lacking substantial content. Is the inclusion of a new adventure mode and new energy mechanic enough to save Mario Tennis Aces from a similar fate?
The core tennis gameplay remains strong and polished. The game continues the trend of the five basic shot types: topspin, flat, slice, lob, and drop. They each have their strengths, and players should aim to utilize the best type for the situation. Character movement feels smoother and simplified compared to Ultra Smash. This is especially noticeable when hitting the ball as your character often stays on the ground instead of jumping in the air.
The inclusion of the new energy meter is a welcome change to the series. It is a limited resource used to unleash powerful abilities and charges up by rallying with your opponent or pulling off trick shots. The first of these new abilities is the zone shot: it allows you to freeze time and manually aim a charged shot at anywhere on the court. It can be blocked with precise timing, but if you miss your racket will take damage. Miss three zone shots and your racket will break. Lose both rackets, and you will instantly lose the match via KO.
Although the zone shot may seem powerful, it is kept in balance by the second new ability: zone speed. Zone speed drains your energy meter as it is active and allows the player to slow down time dramatically. This makes it helpful in returning far-reaching shots or blocking zone shots. The final power, special shot, requires a full energy meter and unleashes an even stronger version of the zone shot that will break a racket in one hit if not appropriately blocked.
With zone and special shots, players can decide if they want to try and KO their opponent rather than go for a more conventional win. Since the energy bar is a limited resource that must be used sparingly and can produce many different strategies. Do you save your energy in case the opponent uses a zone shot or do you trust in your abilities to block it and go for a special shot?
Mario Tennis Aces brings back adventure mode for the first time since Mario Tennis: Power Tour in 2004. You take charge of Mario across five different regions and on a multitude of courts. Each region has around four levels comprised of 1–2 challenge stages, one normal tennis match, and one boss battle. The challenge stages contain tests of skill that ask you to hit specific targets, or maintain a long rally. Each boss battle is under a timer, and Mario needs to maintain a rally to wear the boss down and damage it with precisely located zone shots. If Mario loses the rally or gets hit by an attack, the remaining time is decreased.
The adventure mode also includes a level-up system where different stats such as speed and power can be improved upon level completion. However, it can be difficult to feel these changes as each level only increases each stat by a nominal amount. Although a great idea, the entire experience feels short; taking only 2–4 hours to beat. While the story is not as enthralling and deep as some might have wished, it is a welcome return.
Playing with friends and competing with others online will be the meat of the game for most players. The online tournament is a wonderful addition to the Mario Tennis series. As of version 1.1.1, the game bases the rankings on the ELO system where winning a match will gain points and losing will do the opposite. The balance of the characters is fair, but there have been some grievances online about certain characters being too powerful. To remedy this, Nintendo has claimed they will issue balance patches in the future.
Although Nintendo’s online capabilities can be mediocre at times, I rarely ran into connection issues in many hours of online play. Players are also able to see their connection strength to their opponent before they enter a match and can search for a new opponent if the connection is weaker than desired. If the new energy mechanic isn’t your thing, you can also play in a ranked basic mode where only the five basic shots are allowed. The only thing lacking with the tournament mode is the inclusion of a doubles mode.
If you’re looking for some laid back fun, Mario Tennis Aces also has a casual mode that can be played online or offline. While enjoyable, these modes are missing several options and settings to fit the needs of different players. First, players are only limited to two types of match lengths which removes the ability to play against a friend in an extended match. Second, the map selection setting is abysmal. Instead of a simple stage selection screen, you must manually set each stage you do or do not want to play on. This means that if you select the custom stage option and want to play a specific court, you must manually disable all the other stages one-by-one. Finally, when playing online in doubles, it can be challenging to find out how to play team up with a friend: you need to first make a lobby, invite a friend, then search for an opponent.
Visually, Mario Tennis Aces runs at a gorgeous 60 FPS on both docked and portable modes and features a large variety of beautiful courts and locations. While the visuals look great, the music was lackluster. Each stage has its music, but the overall tone stays very similar causing none of the stages to have their own identity. The music is far from bad, but each stage could have used a little more personality.
Mario Tennis Aces is a great return for the racket-wielding plumber and friends. The return of adventure mode is a nice touch but suffers in its length as well as variety in level design. Regarding multiplayer, there are quite a few hiccups regarding options and quality of life features. Despite this, the multiplayer experience in Mario Tennis Aces is the best in the series. If you are looking for purely a single player experience, hold back on this game for now as you won’t find much. For those with friends or a competitive spirit, this is one tennis game that you don’t want to miss out on.