Mario Tennis Open is like a summer’s outfit: perfect when the time is right, but without many layers.
Being before my years of employment, my time with the Nintendo 64 era of Mario sports titles was limited at best. I was unable to purchase games as freely and irresponsibly as I do now, so I never got to own and devote huge amounts of time or energy to Camelot’s titles from a simpler time. Mario Tennis Open tries to bring those times back to me, but sadly, I don’t want them anymore. I’m an adult now. I want complex things. I like this game, don’t get me wrong. I know this review may seem critical (perhaps a bit too much sometimes), but Nintendo has missed some sweet opportunities with what is otherwise a solid addition to the Mario Tennis lineage.
Mario Tennis Open is simple and direct, welcoming you right in with a short tutorial and leaving you to compete in tournaments and matches and mini games as you see fit. There is a “Clubhouse,” where you can purchase costumes and equipment for your Mii, swap outfits that adjust your stats, or set your Streetpass settings. In-game currency earned from playing the mini games can help buy a surprisingly large amount of unlockable gear, ranging from rackets to shoes to entire costumes.
Bracket-style tournaments are available for both singles and doubles matches, with multiple cups available to conquer in each mode. A small selection of mini games provides some variety to the single player experience, such as hitting the ball through rings for points or hitting aces against computer foes through an ink-stained screen. Both local and online multiplayer modes are also available.
The potential for a deep, enjoyable experience is there. Even without the RPG-esque storyline framing Mario’s previous handheld sports outings, Mario Tennis Open has elements that, if utilized properly, could have truly drawn players in and addicted them to obtaining that next trophy or unlocking every piece of equipment.
No matter how hard I try to force myself, I cannot ignore the shallow feel to this game. Rather than unlocking specific gear for purchase by accomplishing certain achievements or defeating certain foes, gear is randomly made available by winning tournament matches. Any tournament match. Rather than earning coins by winning the purse of a difficult tournament cup or defeating a rival in special challenges, coins are awarded for playing the mini games – regardless of the outcome or level of difficulty. Rather than providing a huge selection of old and new characters to play as, each with their own strengths and weaknesses and hopes and dreams, Nintendo has provided a rather small and predictable roster with secret characters easily unlocked through completion of the four mini games. A tiny, vicious circle ensues, with players bouncing from tournament or exhibition play (to unlock equipment) to the mini games (to earn coins and unlock characters) to the Clubhouse (to buy equipment). Needless to say, the circle gets kind of repetitive quickly. To make matters worse, stats seem to have a minimal effect on the abilities of the characters. Yoshi might seem a little swifter and Donkey Kong might hit a little harder, but in the end, the differences between the characters are marginal at best. Gone are the character-specific super hits from Mario Power Tennis as well, limiting the individuality of each character even further. Attaching equipment to your Mii can adjust your Mii’s stats, but again, the adjustments are so minor, the point of attaching equipment at all feels more cosmetic than anything. Online multiplayer is perhaps the game’s biggest grievance. I felt that Mario Kart 7′s online options were limited, but Mario Tennis Open seems like a joke. Players can choose either matches with people from their friends list, or singles and doubles matches with strangers online. Friends-list “exhibition” games give a bit more freedom, at least allowing court selection. But online matches are done completely at random. Want to play on the Galaxy court? Cross your fingers. Want to team up with a friend and take on some strangers in doubles? Too bad. Can we set up a huge tournament? Nope. Can I play against an old rival? Not here. Shall I opt out of matches with people using the gyro sensor? Can’t. You are stuck with so much in the online portion of this game, and it is upsetting.
Not because of what it is, necessarily, but because of what it could have been. It could have been so much more, and yet it feels like nothing was explored. It works well for what it is, and I must admit I enjoy crushing some random stranger 7-0 (especially when they use their Mii). But it all still feels like I do when I sleep at night – with little to no layers.
Now, as I said at the beginning of the review, the game is not terrible. In all of it’s lackings, Mario Tennis Open is a solid tennis title and has a strange, undeniable pull to it. I find myself going back again and again for short spurts of play much more than I would have first anticipated. There are some features I might even say I love about it. For one, they fixed the Mii (at least the male one). He no longer sounds like a character from Q*Bert 3 (again, see Mario Kart 7), but instead now sounds like a realistic person whose voice doesn’t make me want to punch myself in the cochleas. Plus, his victory animation is awesome. It looks just like my victory animation in real life! Memorizing and executing the various, colored racket swings before the ball hits your side of the court feels reminiscent of Punch-Out!!, and upon successful execution, can be very satisfying. The environments are bright and inviting, and anything that includes pieces from Super Mario Galaxy’s soundtrack becomes automatically better. Disconnections during online multiplayer will still reward players for whatever they had accomplished up to that point, a very welcome improvement. And, perhaps the best addition of all, Matrix-style intergalactic replays of you smashing the ball into your opponent’s face. Worth it!
Mario Tennis Open is a good game. But it’s not a great game. It stands as a symbol of hope, a beacon of improvement, a placard of potential and ultimately as a reminder of missed opportunities and lost ambitions. Nintendo has touched on some seemingly fruitful ideas (buying equipment, changing attributes, online play), but that’s all they did. Just touched them, and left them where they are at. Unless you are an avid Mario/Tennis fan, I can’t say for sure if I feel this game warrants a purchase at full price. However, with Nintendo moving the way of the digital download, perhaps in the near future the game will be available at a discounted price and always available for the way it plays best: in short, sweet spurts, without many layers.