Mario Tennis Open is the latest game in the long-running tennis series by Camelot. People who have enjoyed the series in the past should know exactly what to expect here in terms of the game’s presentation. All of the iconic Mario characters are present, the courts have a great amount of variety, and there is something to be said about the inherent polish of Camelot’s titles. But does this entry live up to the great games of the series’ past?
For the single player portion of the game, there are three main game types to choose from: Tournament Play, Exhibition, and Special Games (which are mini games). With Tournament and Exhibition we get the main type of game play: actual tennis matches. The game play is essentially the same as the other entries in the series, with one noticeable difference. While you are playing, if momentum swings your way, various icons will appear on the court that correspond to a specific special shot that are performed by pressing a specific button or buttons. Utilizing these special shots are certainly fun to use at first, but over time it feels as though these shots alone become the essential way to beat your opponent. The game begins to feel less about outsmarting your opponent with well placed shots and more about relying on the special shots to push bend to break until your opponent finally loses the point. As a result, getting points and winning matches feels less rewarding than it should. That being said, it is nice to be rewarded for gaining initial momentum, although I feel as though the game would have benefited from a more subdued utilization of the special shots.
The difficulty gradient for AI in this game is something that never feels on the mark. Maybe it’s just me, but this was one of those games where the beginner, easy, and normal difficulty computers for the most part all felt too easy and predictable, resulting in blow out wins on my part. While on the other end of the spectrum, the highest difficulty AI seem to be able to predict your every move before you even take a shot, resulting in glorious defeat. That being said, with 5 difficulty levels there should be one that comes close to what you’re comfortable playing at. For me, Pro (the second highest difficulty) comes closest, but I still end up winning most of the time.
Playing doubles with a computer is one aspect that can be as fun as it is frustrating. While the matches do have their moments of intensity and excitement, such as long rallies where the momentum sways from team-to-team, I still noticed some problems that arose in this mode. Unfortunately, the computer on your team often seems to miss golden opportunities to utilize special shots that could have easily led to a point with your team. Noticing these missed opportunities creates frustration because you know you could have easily made that shot given the chance. Another strange thing I noticed was that the computers on the other team rarely ever hit the ball towards you, except when the opportunity arises to take advantage of a mistake in positioning you may have made. I found myself watching the computers play more than I played myself, and it made me feel disconnected from the experience of the game as such. Nonetheless, doubles play can be fun in its shining moments.
There are four mini games included with the package, and each of them offer a unique twist to the game of tennis that both work as fun distractions if you don’t have enough time to play a full match as well as a good platform to hone your skills for the regular matches. My favorite of the four was Galaxy Rally, which tests both your accuracy and ability to think and react quickly: that being said, they all provide some sort of charm and replay value due to the progression of challenge through them. However, the novelty of Super Mario Tennis, a mini game which allows you to progress through levels of Super Mario Bros by hitting a ball against a screen of the game, will probably be what most people will gravitate towards.
Throughout the game you are able to unlock various characters as well as items (such as rackets and outfits) that you can equip to your Mii character for when you use him or her throughout the game. Unlockable characters give the player incentive to continue playing single player, which gives the game some nice replay value. The unlockable items, on the other hand, for the most part feel completely useless. There is a staggering amount of items to unlock and buy to upgrade you Mii, but thinking of these as upgrades feels misleading. In my experience, I did not notice any difference in how my Mii played on the court with any of the upgrades I acquired. Apart from the aesthetic appeal of customizing your character the way you want to, these items do not feel as though they add anything to the game experience, which they certainly could have by giving the upgrades some sort of substantial impact.
The overall presentation of Mario Tennis Open is one aspect that gets it right in almost every regard. The character models and courts all look great and the visuals are some of the best the 3DS has to offer. Speaking of the courts, there are a good number to choose from and each of them has their own unique aesthetic style and game feel, giving the game a good sense of variety and challenge. Menus are easy enough to navigate and you are able to navigate them with either the touch screen or d-pad/circle-pad, which is a plus. There is really nothing bad to be said about the controls either, as everything feels tight, responsive, and polished. The music in the game is also very impressive throughout. Camelot is known for their strong musical compositions, most notably in their RPG series Golden Sun, so this should come as no surprise. These various parts form the whole of the game that feels well thought out and constructed, and this is one of the shining points of the game.
Of course it couldn’t be a Mario sports game review without a discussion about the multi-player. And as is normal with most of the games in this genre (ala Mario Kart, Mario Golf), Mario Tennis Open feels at its best when you are playing with a friend. As mentioned before, the AI difficulties may feel unbalanced and predictable to some players, so as a result playing the game with another human feels the most organic and genuine. The game allows you to play multi-player with friends in local matches within the same area, or even online through your 3DS friends list, giving those with friends who have the game reply value as long as the interest in playing is consistent. Even if you don’t know anyone who owns the game, you also have the option to play the game online with people around the world through the Nintendo Network. While this may not be as fun or enjoyable as playing it with someone you know personally, it still offers a rewarding experience and keeps track of your monthly leaderboard, though the matchmaking does not always feel quite right in terms of skill differential. The multi-player option of Open is what will likely determine the longevity and replay value of the experience for most players.
Overall, Mario Tennis Open is a solid addition to the Mario Tennis series, and is one you should likely pick up if you are a fan of the previous entries in the franchise. I feel as though Camelot could have been a little more ambitious and given the game proper RPG elements, like the had in the Mario Golf handheld games, such as potentially a leveling system but mostly to make it feel as though the “upgrades” we were getting actually had bearing on how the game played, or gone the exact opposite route and left them out entirely. I also thought that the special shots, while cool and aesthetically fun to look at, were focused on too much and could have been scaled back to make room for a more balanced, skilled game play. Though if you can look around these flaws, the game does have a distinct charm and game feel, as well as incentives to keep playing with character unlocks, tournament play, and mini games. Though of course, as I have mentioned, the game should be played multi-player for the best experience. Play ball.