Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: June 22, 2018 (Worldwide)
It’s Match Point and its CAMELOT with the serve of what could be the best Mario Tennis game since Mario Power Tennis. But is Mario Tennis Aces’ best, good enough for it to emerge victorious? Let’s find out!
When a certain CAMELOT developed Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash released on the Wii U in 2015, there could be no denying that it left a bad taste in the mouths of those who played it. It did not look particularly great, it played worse than it looked and both reviewers and gamers, did not speak too highly of it. Had it been any other sports game and not one under the Mario Tennis series branding, there is a chance the series could have sunk into obscurity, never to be seen again.
Naturally, that didn’t happen, because as part of the January 2018 Mini Direct, Nintendo revealed a new Mario Tennis game for Switch. They told us its name and to expect it in Spring 2018. Although Mario Tennis Aces was shown to be a huge visual improvement, the fact the game is the work of CAMELOT once again, was enough to dissuade a number of fans.
In the months that passed, with some drip feed information and both a presence in the March Nintendo Direct and at E3, the more we saw of Mario Tennis Aces, the better it became in the eyes and minds of gamers. As well as Single-Console play with in-house friends, and both Local & Online Play, an Adventure Mode was revealed and the cinematic trailer for such mode, wowed the heck out of us. But just because it did win over the viewers, as well as those who played the Tournament demo, now that the full game has made its way out into the world, it seems we did not get more than we bargained for.
Don’t get me wrong, especially right now when the more questionable stuff I will say, will come much later, but when it comes to Mario Tennis Aces, although it seemed like we didn’t see a lot of it in action, there is a good reason why. You see, although it has been stated a little too excessively that Mario Tennis Aces is this big, content-heavy game, that’s only when you compare it to previous Mario Tennis titles.
Yet, if you dare to compare it to Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, those two multiplayer focused titles, are busting so much with content that they make Mario Tennis Aces look like the new-born infant brought into a large family. Sure, it’s got some love handles for players to grab hold of with both hands, but even its elongated sibling ARMS, has more bite for its bark than Mario Tennis Aces does. (And yet, thanks to the Mario branding slapped on it, it’s bound to outsell ARMS in no time at all. Springman can’t catch a break.)
There’s no denying it can be a fun to play game, as you would expect since Mario and Co are present, but if you are looking for an utterly life-like tennis video game experience, then Mario Tennis Aces is not for you and it’s not because of all the fanciful moves. What it is down to, are the matches themselves.
Due to the game’s online tournaments and COM tournaments, matches are intended to be quick. There are no options as such that can be altered, other then: Extended Play Time – First Player to win two games in one set, wins /Quick Play – Tiebreakers only, with the first to 7 points being the victor. So, if you were hoping you could set up a match and be in it for the long haul, that’s simply not the case. There is no 2-4 players having to play to the best of their abilities from the outset. There is simply no time for the psychological battle we usually see between competitors in sporting events.
The only options you do have when it comes to setting up a match, is deciding on whether it will be singles only, doubles only, or singles and doubles randomly. You can alter COM difficulty, decide if you want to allow a KO end the match and only play a small role in deciding on what course you get to play on, which by the way need to be unlocked via Adventure Mode and that’s the only real incentive to play it. (More on this later.) But court selection does pretty much consist of Stadium Only and Custom (a court chosen at random from a list of courts you have in your custom court selection.)
With Custom, although you can pick which ones you want and whether or not you want hazards present, you still have to mainly go into and turn all courts off but one, if you wish to play a particular one. If that’s a little confusing and long though, here’s the short of it, you can pick particular stages, but there is a bit of effort involved on your part to have it happen. Also, should you pick the stages that have hazards (enemies and objects that will get in the way and interfere with your game,) some daring gameplay can be had.
When playing online via Free Play mode, there are very little options you can tweak, so it is a case of rolling with the punches and accepting what you get. Whereas if you choose to invest time into the Tournament mode, when playing online against other players, during an active tournament, you can earn points and the right to access a new playable character before they’re added to the game for free, in the month that follows. There is no altering options here, but you can choose to play Standard Class which is all the standard rules and allows Zone Shots, Zone Speed and an energy bar, whereas Simple Class does away with all of that.
Something I will say about playing online, is that Aces will actually check yours and your opponent’s internet connections and if it’s not acceptable, it will cancel the match and allow you to find another one. It’s a nice little touch, to ensure matches can actually be played and free of lag, but if you’re the gamer with the bad internet connection, like I am, there will still be moments of lag, so it’s not impeccable like some have said, but it is handled better than in some of Nintendo’s other multiplayer titles.
Should you rather stick it out and play in the COM tournament though, there are cups that can be played and characters who emerge victorious, will get a crown next to their name. If you choose to play through each of the three cups with the game’s 16 unlocked at the start characters, you will soon rack up the time you spend playing Aces, but with one character, you will most likely beat all three cups within 35-50 minutes.
Other than the crown by a character’s name, as enjoyable as this mode is, and good practice for the real thing, it does feel like something that was thrown in to act as space filler. It is however, as safe a means as any to encourage players to try out each character and experience their character type for themselves. (All-Around, Speedy, Powerful, Technical, Defensive and Tricky.)
Now, because I have put it off for long enough, although online play and multiplayer is where this game comes into its own and is most appealing, since I’ve put it off long enough, it’s time to talk about Adventure Mode. Upon booting the game up for the first times, you’re actually going to be thrown into this mode and greeted with one of a few fantastic cinematics that Aces has to offer. Those scenes we saw in the Adventure Mode trailer and character celebrations from the demo, were just the tip of the iceberg of what Adventure Mode really has to offer and yet, the mode itself is not as adventurous as I hoped it would be.
The story begins in the same way most stories do, it was just another day, and in Mario’s case, another day where Mario has been able to convince Bowser to partake in sports by playing another round of Tennis. Things then go horribly wrong, Wario & Waluigi come to cause chaos and Luigi falls victim to an evil Tennis Racket, by the name of Lucien that can control minds. From there, Mario’s mission to save his brother can begin.
Naturally, the story plays out exactly as you would expect it to in a Mario game. Everything is solved by playing tennis (including defeating bosses and solving puzzles,) so as long as you go into it with very low exceptions, you will not be rolling your eyes halfway through it. What you might do however, is start working on your Johnny McEnroe impressions halfway through this “less than 30 stages and 5-10 hours to complete” campaign.
As great as Adventure Mode is for teaching players the ins and outs of every technique, the mode is as rewarding as it is faulty. Instead of cut-scenes for everything, going in and coming out of a level, is done via series of dialogue and a picture of the level you’re about to head into, with the characters who are talking, at either end of the screen. As for the levels, their setting can depend upon the location you are in and can only be accessed, when the path to them has been unlocked. Most are simply a case of playing a match against a certain opponent, but some levels require some puzzle-solving against a magic mirror, being able to rally a ball and rack up a set amount of points, knocking down panels to score points, getting 20-30 balls past a certain opponent and boss battles.
The boss battles are a lot of fun, as they will test what you have learned since you have embarked and force you to whittle down a life bar, before you can even destroy 1 of their 3 hearts. Victory can only be attained when all 3 hearts are no more, but there is a clock that ticks down in the corner and if it reaches 0, you have failed. Just like how you’ll fail if all of your rackets break, as that is an instant KO for yourself and those you play. (I’ll be honest, during the campaign, there were 2 instances where I had to go for the KO win, as 2 very specific characters, proved too tricky for me to beat. A guy can only take one hour of non-stop loss against a Blooper because of reflection shots off a mast.)
To better your chances of victory, not only are players expected to master the game’s controls, which will come soon, but Mario is going to require assistance and a lot of grinding. In addition to levels on Practise Courts where panels can engage in games of rallying and panel smacking, new rackets can be earned. There are 5 in all that can be earned and the further into the game you go, the better they are in what they offer thanks to a stats system. Each racket have an Attack, Defence and Durability stat, with the Flame Racket being the best one Mario can earn and they will affect how he plays because they will help him deal harder hitting blows, and be able to withstand them better.
If in the event the rackets still guarantee Mario a victory on the newest level you have unlocked, there is only one other thing you can do, level up. Borrowing some elements from an RPG, the single-player campaign does feature a level up system that allows Mario to earn EXP, whether he wins or loses. (For obvious reasons, the better the player does, the more EXP they will gain.) As Mario levels up, his Shot Speed, Run Speed and Agility will increase, so on the levels where you struggle on, you can walk away and come back a whole lot stronger. Due to 2 particular stages, I actually walked away and did a couple hours of grinding, to reach Level 40 before continuing. (I swear to God, I never want to see a Blooper again, because the suffering he wrought upon me, will stay with me for years to come.)
To Adventure Mode’s credit though, as annoying the grinding can be and the difficulty spike as it can easily go from being an easy affair to a maddening endeavour that will frustrate Veteran Mario Tennis players, at least by beating bosses, courts that you will play on, will be unlocked for the main game. Something that I feel hurts this mode though, is the lack of a co-op campaign so that players can do the whole things as doubles, since Toad is there with Mario for the duration, upon beating the entire thing, it would have been nice if the game allowed players to play through it as a character other than Mario. (Why should Mario get all the fun?)
If it wasn’t for the unlockable courses, there would be no incentive to suffer through Adventure Mode, to the very end, but the first few levels are necessary since they act as great tutorial. On that note, let’s finally bring up gameplay. Being a tennis game, the main gameplay, especially the non-Adventure Mode stuff, plays out a lot like you would imagine. If you’re playing singles, there will be 1 character on each side of the court, battling it out to win as many sets and games they need to, to win the match.
Players are free to roam their side of the court and take shots at one another, with the left analog stick controlling movement, whereas the X, A, B and Y buttons, can be used to pull off all kinds of shots. From Topspins, Slices, Flats, Lobs and Drop Shots, the gang is all here. Except, because this is a Mario game, there’s a bit more to the shots than just that. Hold any of the buttons will cause your character to charge their shot before they swing, with L and ZL being buttons that can be used to cancel them.
Successful swings will allow your energy bar to charge up, which is crucial to victory. Should one character hit the ball in a direction you’re not, hitting X twice will cause your character to pull off a Trick Shot to try and reach the ball and hurl it back. A successful move will help boost your energy, whereas a failed attempt will cost you energy. Should you wish to play offence instead of defence though, when your energy bar is a third full, a Star can appear anywhere on your side of the court when the ball is coming towards you and pressing ZR will cause your character to leap up and do a Zone Shot.
Depending on how much energy you have upon entering this state, the more time you’ll have to line up your shot. You could go for the easy point, or attempt to break your enemy’s racket. It may be an underhand thing to do, but when faced against a more skilful foe, it’s your best chance of victory, as long as you can break every single racket your opponent happens to have, before they win the match.
Should the shoe be on the other foot and you are the one being attacked from a high-speed Zone Shot, ZR can also be used to activate Zone Speed. Like with the Zone Shot, the amount of energy you have, determines how long Zone Speed will last, so always try your best to get to the ball as soon as you can and hit it just at the right time to properly block the shot. (Doing it too late is what damages rackets and causes them to break.) But, if you are able to fully raise your energy to the max, pressing L will activate a Special Shot that works a lot like a Zone Shot, except it has more power, more likely to break rackets and has a great animated sequence to accompany it.
In the event that button controls are not to your liking, while Aces lacks touch-screen for scrolling through its menus, it does at least feature motion controls and a Swing Mode for the players looking to put a bit of practise in and master the art of swinging a remote around, like we used to in the days of the Nintendo Wii. I didn’t particularly get on well with using this feature of the game, but I could see the appeal it would have to those that do and can admit it does add a good physical aspect to it to all your sporty showdowns.
Now, although my personal criticism with Aces is the minimal content it has compared to other Nintendo multiplayer game and Mario games in general on Switch as Aces is the Mario game we got after Odyssey, there is something that needs to be addressed. Although it does feature some assets reused from the Wii U game (voice-overs and animations,) Aces is not a port. It is a new offering that plays and feels like an enjoyable new game, which happens to differ to Ultra Smash in a few interesting ways. The most noticeable 3 being the fact Aces has an Adventure Mode, which hasn’t been present in the Mario Tennis series since 2005 and Ultra Smash has amiibo support, whereas Aces doesn’t. Also, Aces actually has a few of its characters wearing the right attire for once! So yeah, it’s not a port and it’s time to find out if it’s a winner!
At the risk of being overly blunt, Mario Tennis Aces is the return to form the Mario Tennis series needs, but gorgeous as it is to look at and as fun and addictive as it is to play, I can’t help but think Aces is not the Switch Mario Tennis game we should have got. With the likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and Super Mario Odyssey, all on Switch, the bar for Mario games has been raised and although after Ultra Smash, we should in no way expect Aces to live up to the Mario games that come before it is in no way, but it does leave me with small taste of disappointment. Had it been on the Wii U instead of Ultra Smash, it most likely would have been one of the greatest games the console could have had. Instead, it’s on Switch and having traded opinions and thoughts with others, of a similar mind-set, we have found it to be lacking. It may be full of the Mario charm, but it is overpriced in its current state. Yet, with just a few choice updates, such as one that adds better match duration altering settings, Aces could go on to become something a little more well-rounded and content heavy.
THE VERDICT: 7/10
*Review Key Provided by Nintendo
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This post was written by Jack Longman