Camelot has an illustrious history creating sports games for Nintendo consoles. Whatever you think of Mario starring in so many titles, the tennis and golf games have so far been excellent arcade sports games, and Mario Tennis Open for 3DS is no different. The tennis mechanics are as smooth as silk and very dynamic, the multiplayer features are solid and generous, and the only fault I can find is the limited variety in singleplayer modes.
Mario Tennis Open doesn’t have any of the RPG or story elements that Mario Tennis: Power Tour on the GBA had, so think of this as a sequel to Mario Power Tennis for the GameCube but without the Power Shots. What Nintendo has gone for in Mario Tennis Open game is approachability, fun and multiplayer, and Camelot has certainly nailed all three of these, and because of this, I can easily recommend the game to anyone looking for an arcade-like tennis game experience, especially those who know others with a 3DS.
Mario Tennis Open plays very similarly to Mario Power Tennis – you move your character around the court using the circle-pad and hit the ball with one of the buttons: ‘A’ for a top-spin shot, ‘B’ for a slice, ‘Y’ for a flat shot and ‘X’ for a simple-shot (which selects a shot type for you but with less power). You can also do lobs by pressing ‘A’ then ‘B,’ or drop shots by pressing ‘B’ then ‘A.’ The simple-shot has been added to make the gameplay more accessible, but if you want to go far in the tournaments you’ll need to learn to choose your shot manually.
You can also use the touch-screen to play shots instead by tapping on the panel representing the shot you want. Timing is not important in Mario Tennis Open – the earlier you press the shot you want the better as your shot will charge up until the ball is in a position to be hit. Once you start charging you can’t move much though (although you can cancel by pressing ‘L’ and move normally again).
The ‘Power Shots’ of Mario Power Tennis are gone, but the ‘Chance Shot’ has been added. Sometimes when you’re returning a ball a coloured circle appears on the court, and if you stand in that circle and make the appropriate shot you will hit a more powerful version of that shot – the Chance Shot (I think as in ‘take your chance’). This mechanic is essential to master as you go further in the game.
The controls are extremely smooth and work exactly as you expect. They don’t offer very precise control over where the ball goes – you can essentially choose from left, middle or right when placing your shot (by moving the circle-pad after you start charging your shot). Where the ball actually goes depends on a combination of your shot placement, your position relative to the ball, the shot type and your character’s style of play, so there is some variability but the game just about always keeps your shots in-bounds so there’s no way of playing something risky or placing the ball right in the corner.
Mario Tennis Open is a perfect pick-up and play game and seems to have been designed around playing together with friends because a lot of care has been taken to ensure that the levels of skill required to enjoy a game is low. For those looking for a serious tennis game you can sink their teeth into and get really good at, you should probably look elsewhere. Having said that, I am slowly improving when I play against the top AI player – the Ace – so there is certainly skill to the game, but the simplicity and accessibility belies this.
One other control mode is available, but I found it frustrating to use so I’ll just briefly mention it. In this mode you use the gyros in the 3DS to aim your shots and the game moves your character for you. Ostensibly it’s a mode for beginners because you only have to press one button and move the 3DS around to aim, but I found it very limiting, especially because I couldn’t see the whole court (it moves the camera into a behind-the-player position). It’s an interesting addition, but I didn’t try it for more than ten minutes because I found my performance suffered and I was having less fun, so I went back to the traditional full-court view.
There are three singleplayer modes in Mario Tennis Open: Tournament, Exhibition and Special Games. There are eight tournaments, each featuring eight players and played on a different court. The different court surfaces adjust the mechanics of the ball a little, which means you need to adjust your style of play slightly between them against tough players. The difficulty of the game only kicks in on the last few tournaments so the courts play less of a role than they could because for most games you can simply power your way through.
For an Exhibition match you can choose your match court, opponent, difficulty and number of sets and games. The Special Games are tennis-like in that they involve hitting a ball over a net with a racquet, but they’re essentially mini-games – one is about hitting balls through rings which appear on the court, another is about keeping a rally going on a court that changes as you play, another is about returning balls spat out by Inky Piranha Plants, and the most original one is about hitting a ball against a wall which has a Super Mario Bros stage scrolling past on it – aiming at the Goombas, Question Mark blocks and points gets you extra time and points.
Overall the singleplayer is fairly bare, and could have done with a little more variety of some sort other than simply court-types. A season, or tour where you develop rivals, for example, would have been welcome.
There are twelve characters available to start with in Mario Tennis Open, and if you’ve played any of the Mario Sports games you’ll know who they are. You can also play as your Mii. Each of the characters has certain strengths and weakness – Mario is an all-rounder, Yoshi is speedy, Bowser is powerful, and your Mii can be customised by using clothing bought in the Club Room.
The Special Games are where you earn coins to spend in the Item Shop, and one item is added to the shop with each tournament or exhibition match you win. In the item shop there are 48 different racquets, 40 different shirts, 40 different wristbands and 40 different pairs of shoes. Each item has different stats (Power, Spin and Move) for the three different shot types (Top-spin, Cut and Flat), so you can customise your Mii extensively, and it will take a very long time to collect all items available.
Multiplayer is an integral part of Mario Tennis Open. You can play locally with up to four players off just one game card, which is fantastic value. In this mode there are only Exhibition games and two of the Special games available. The Nintendo Network is used for online multiplayer, and in this mode you can either play friends or others in your region. I have tried a few times to get a game and haven’t been successful, but I’m sure with more people buying the game now that it’s released this will get easier.
Mario Tennis Open is colourful, vibrant and fun – everything you expect a Mario sports title to be. It’s a game to be enjoyed with friends, but also does well as a pick-up-and-play arcade-style game. Fans of Mario Power Tennis should be happy with the new iteration, and the accessibility of the game should bring in many new fans.