Mario Sports games have always intrigued me, but rarely have I paid more attention than watching the occasional trailer to see what new wild ideas are being thrown into generic sports. Super Mario Sluggers on the Wii is one that I have enjoyed, and that game was marvelous. The core baseball ideas, mixed with Mario wackiness and gameplay, alongside heaps of content (including a large story campaign) to keep the addictive gameplay going, just made Mario Sluggers something special.
Mario Tennis Aces was the first Mario Sports game that I anticipated before its release with its polished graphics, unique ideas, and a story mode. The pre-launch online tournament showed everyone how great the gameplay was, even with some hiccups that occured online. Now that I’ve gotten to play the full game, I realize how conflicted it makes my view of it, and how amazing a game can be on the surface, yet be lacking where it counts.
The shining star of Mario Tennis Aces is the core gameplay. On top of basic tennis which includes moving around the court and using different basic shot types including flats, slices, drop shots, and lobs, Aces introduces a power meter akin to a fighting game. This allows for new Zone Shots--powerful shots that can be aimed anywhere on the court--using the power obtained from Charged Shots and Trick Shots. These shots can be countered with Zone Speed that slowly decreases the power meter and slows down time to more easily return the ball with correct timing.
Trick shots are an interesting introduction that lets the player leap across the court in any direction to save the ball. These have to be precisely timed, and will fill the power meter quickly if done correctly. If the timing is off, it’ll cause a penalty to the meter, slowing down time to recover the ball. There’s also an ultimate shot from a filled meter that acts as a more powerful zone shot.
Finally, racquets have health and can break from poorly timed hits against powerful shots. If all of the available racquets break, it’s an instant loss. I found this to be pretty fun. Avoiding a broken racquet is pretty easy, but it allows for very aggressive playstyles.
The new ideas in Aces help the game to have a higher skill ceiling, making it feel more rewarding and competitive. It really feels like a fighting game at times, and with everything considered, it has become one.
Overall, the core of Mario Tennis Aces is masterfully executed. Mario Tennis as a series has never been this fun.
Right off the racquet, Aces drops you into the Adventure Mode. The basic premise is that Luigi gets the Infinity Gauntlet--er, I mean, a Magical Racquet that needs 5 Power Stones--and is possessed by a dark force that also takes over Wario and Waluigi. A nice looking cutscene shows it off, but ultimately the beginning is the majority of the story and interesting scenes.
Levels include various mini-games and matches against characters who help you gain levels and new racquets along the way. The mechanics of the game are taught through the beginning and the entire campaign acts as a tutorial with a story on it. Everything is well presented and some of the ideas, from unique boss fights to nail-biting matches, are really great, but the campaign is pretty short and feels like it didn’t reach the potential that might have been planned.
Next to the adventure mode, Online Tournaments are the main attraction. They put you up against opponents of a similar skill level online and winning moves you up through the tournament, eventually reaching the finals. It’s a really neat setup how it feels like a real tournament as you see all the players your opponents have beaten.
Online matches work pretty good, I rarely had lag, but when it occurred it persisted through the match.
Finally, a free play mode lets you set up your own custom matches with friends, online or locally, or play online casually.
So much of Aces screams quality, but after completing the Adventure, the true colors shine through. There’s a good handful of beautiful unique maps, but they are never used in the tournament mode. All of the characters are unlocked from the start, except for the promised monthly character that you get from a single match (Which are already in the game, shown in the Adventure mode). The minigames in the adventure are not available outside of it. The CPU tournaments are very short and easy. Simply, after the adventure mode, there is nothing to work for on your own. With a single Mario alternate costume, the game is clearly set up for skins, yet they are practically non-existent (except as possible online tournament rewards). Online and local multiplayer are the main event, and if you love the gameplay, then striving to improve on the mind game will be satisfactory.
Currently, there are balancing issues that prevent the online from being where it could be. Bowser Jr. is considered overwhelmingly overpowered, and hasn’t been fixed in the time since launch. I fully expect for Aces to get balance patches along with more content over time. It has already seen some improvements. But currently, it falls short in many ways.
I almost forgot to mention the visuals, because of how solid they are. Everything in Aces has a shiny, beautiful polish that comes together to create a perfect presentation for a Mario Sports game.
The music is great all-around, but there’s not very much of it. Because of this, it’s pretty repetitive and the same songs repeated in multiple areas prevent differences in atmosphere.
Ultimately, I love Mario Tennis Aces. The gameplay is top tier and everything available is good. Yet, the lack of content and options make the game feel rushed and temper what could have been an amazing experience. I hope it will improve as time passes, but right now the game is not something I can blindly recommend to anyone.
*Editor's Note: The rating has been updated from 6.6 to 7.
- Spectacular Gameplay
- Gorgeous Presentation
- Lack of Content
- Poor Character Balance