The great thing about Nintendo and their Mario branded sports games is that they almost always arrive with the same stellar quality standard. I’ll start by saying that the brand new Mario Tennis Open for the Nintendo 3DS lives up to that brand of sale. This is a game that packs polish and replayability in almost every facet.
In spite of that fact, it also arrives feeling a little light in terms of pure mechanics.
Rather than taking aim at ridiculousness (as is often the case with Mario Sports games), MTO plays in a very, very simplistic manner. Every shot on the court can be accomplished with either a button press, button combination or tap of the touchscreen. Each match unfolds as you take the simple shots and apply solid, learned timing to them in order to increase power and speed.
From there? It doesn’t change much at all. Perhaps this is just the nature of tennis in video game form, but MTO never adds an extra layer of learning to the basic skillset it presents. Once you figure the game out…well, you’ve figured it out. That’s it. CPU difficulty increases, there are mini-games to conquer, but the core tennis mechanic never changes or evolves.
Nintendo tried to alleviate this inherent problem by adding a welcome system of customization to the game. Players can play with their Mii. Their Mii can buy unlocked outfits, racquets, wristbands and shoes in order to tweak their stats for play. You earn coins by winning matches or conquering the mini-games.
While that customization is nice, it doesn’t really do much to the game on the court. Yes, your Mii will be a better player, but that doesn’t translate to more tennis fun. Like I said before, the mechanics here don’t really evolve over time. It’s easy to play and easy to master.
You’ll take that Mii (or the standard set of core characters) through tiers of tournament play in other singles or doubles style. It’s fun, but it’s also super repetitive.
But, again, polish is key for this game’s strengths. Mario Tennis Open looks great, it runs smoothly, offers a bevy of characters to play and a few extras to explore.
For instance, and this was probably my favorite mini-game in the package, you can play through the original Super Mario Bros. levels with one of the special gametypes. You’ll be placed on a court in front of a giant, ever-scrolling screen that features an early level from the NES classic. As it pans to the right, you’ll take aim and hit balls at enemies, coins and pipes in order to earn in-game currency, more game time and medals. It’s a fun and inventive take on an old standard game.
If online play was something you were looking forward to, I’m going to have to tell you to wait until we update this review after the game actually releases. I sat in the online lobby for hours on end, searching for other players… nothing. I never had a chance to play this game online in the week that I was reviewing it. I hope that changes when it officially launches. Once that happens, I’ll update this review with those impressions.
If you’re a lover of tennis or the Mario style of sports games, consider Mario Tennis Open a great game for your Nintendo 3DS catalogue. It won’t live up to the standard set by titles like Mario Golf on the GameCube or Mario Strikers for the Wii, but it will occupy your 3DS for a long time coming.
However, if you’re not much for the basic mechanics of tennis…consider something else. At its core, and this is certainly just as much a compliment as a complaint, this is a basic, simple tennis game.
We received our review copy of Mario Tennis Open more than two weeks before launch from Nintendo. We played through each tournament in the game on both singles and doubles style before starting our review. We also played each of the mini-games all the way to the gold medal. We did not, as we mentioned, get to play any online multiplayer…but we tried.