Mario Tennis: Aces is a swing in the right direction for Nintendo, but fails to add enough to the series to really keep players invested in the long run.
At this point, Mario has tried just about every sport under the sun, and usually his sporting endeavours fail to catch my interest, but I’ve got a soft spot for tennis, and with this title releasing right in time for Wimbledon, ah, Nintendo, you got me.
My first impression when booting the game up was “Wow, this is pretty”, and boy, it is. Aces brings a level of production not seen before in the Mario sports series, with flashy effects and some really beautiful lighting, it’s truly a joy to look at.
Characters pop off the screen with bright colours and fluid and fun animations. In terms of presentation, this feels like current AAA Nintendo, which is nice, as we don’t often get that with the sports games.
Game-play wise it’s more or less what you’d expect. It’s tennis, and you’re playing with some decently accurate rules. The curve-ball Nintendo throws onto the court this time is the charge meter. A system that works by charging up for in-coming shots before hitting them; the longer you charge, the more your meter fills up. But this comes with the danger of having to make an educated guess as to where the opponent will throw the ball, as your character is static during charge-time.
Upon filling your meter, you’re given the ability to use a special move. This works similarly to a final smash in Smash Bros. though here, even though each characters build-up is different, the outcome (a supercharged shot) is the same.
You can block shots with accurate timing, and jump a set distance to the side for a return, leading to deeper, higher level game-play.
Each shot you hit feels wondrously satisfying though, and up-keeping a rally for a while feels great.
The plot is a point where the production value falls flat on its face, but I can’t say it isn’t entertaining. It revolves around an ancient tennis racquet called “Lucien”, which is handed to Luigi at the beginning by none other than Wario and Waluigi.
Naturally, this racket is evil, and takes control of Luigi and the two wannabe super bros.
Mario and Toad set out on a quest to recover the five power stones in order to restore peace to all of this. If this sounds at all like the plot of “The Avengers” you might not be totally crazy. The ancient racket looks for all the world like a particular gauntlet, and the power stones that go into? You betcha the colours line up.
This provided a good laugh, and whether or not Nintendo is aware of this is hard to say, but it’s extremely hard not to compare the two.
The story, or adventure mode is one of the main draws to this title especially. While we haven’t had a story mode since the GBA game, Aces throws you into it right off the bat, and there is some decent effort poured into it.
You’re given an over-world, with various themed areas to reach, and a set of levels in each. It works like a mini version of a classic Mario level select, and makes for a more complete feeling experience.
Levels are generally a ten minute affair, and are usually pretty fun stuff. An issue to bring up would be the stage hazards in one-on-one matches, which more often than not are just an annoyance. The worst of which being a blasted poll, placed in the centre of the court, and when your balls hit it, and they will hit it, they go flying off to goodness knows where. Things don’t always feel entirely fair in these scenarios.
Something Aces gets right though, is boss fights. Large enemies from the Mario universe, now hosting little “oh no please don’t hit me with a tennis ball here” markings.
What excited me most about these fights is that they weren’t always simple. With some of them being quite difficult, and taking up to ten attempts to finally knock out.
I only wish there could have been more though, which is what you’ll be thinking in terms of the story mode itself, unfortunately. It sticks around for about ten hours of game-play, which isn’t too bad, but with levels not providing much incentive for re-plays, you’re left wandering the menus looking for something to do.
If you hadn’t found the online corner before this time, you’d certainly bump into it here.
Online matches are carried out exactly how you’d expect, with some decent match-making and a fun tournament mode all lending to a solid experience.
It’s downfall, in my experience, was the server quality. In every match I have ever played here, I’ve had a pretty bad time getting even a somewhat stable connection.
Looking at what others have said, this doesn’t appear to be an isolated problem, though some users do report having no issues whatsoever, leaving me baffled, and wishing I was wherever they are.
If it works for you, I must say, the online’s potential is huge. It’s very reminiscent of Mario Kart, and has a new character being added each month currently.
I love this game, but it’s hard to declare that there’s enough to it, and given the length and connectivity issues, my final score for this game comes out as a…
Mario Tennis: Aces is a solid experience, which lacks replay value in its otherwise great story section, but thrives in its online mode, assuming you can get it working.
Despite any flaws, sitting in front of Wimbledon, playing this, and drinking my sponsored Evian water is a memory I won’t soon forget, and one I’m happy I bought into.
Game reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
Mario Tennis: Aces is available now via Nintendo’s eshop and retail.