Reviewed on Nintendo Switch, copy supplied by Nintendo.
Mario Tennis Aces brings Mario and gang to the Switch for some sports action, and in doing so highlights the strengths of the Switch for casual gaming.
There’s a little bit to dissect with this title, so we’ll start with the adventure mode, which takes Mario and Toad on a quest to stop an ancient threat that Waluigi and Wario have awoken. To curb this threat to the world, Mario needs to recover five power stones in a borderline copyright infringing story. Of course to recover the stones Mario needs to make full use of the powers of tennis, which is a plot point so silly that the game makes no efforts to hide how stupid it all is.
Travelling across distinct areas, you have to battle against foes with the power of tennis both on and off courts, leveling up and unlocking new rackets as you go. Each area has a boss to fight, which makes use of the mechanics Mario Tennis Aces wants you to be good at – mainly zone shots, trick shots and blocks.
The activities range from extremely fun to throw your Switch out the window like a Frisbee levels of frustrating. Certain opponents and courts introduce obstacles that get in the way of typical tennis, such as random exploding objects that stop you getting shots in, and insanely difficult dodging segments.
In the case of boss fights there are timers introduced, and each misstep sets you back five seconds. As it builds, things become incredibly annoying and surprisingly difficult for a game targeted at younger audiences. The length of the adventure is relatively short, taking me around five – six hours, but its inclusion is welcome, even if it isn’t the best Mario adventure you’ll ever play.
Outside of adventure mode is where things heat up. Playing tournaments with friends is some of the best tennis action out there, with a Mario twist of course. Each player has a set number of rackets in a bout, and powerful hits can damage or shatter the opponent’s whacking stick, meaning you don’t necessarily have to be a tennis mastermind to win, you can instead push your way to victory with brute force by scoring knockouts.
Doubles and singles matches are both solid, however CPU controlled characters have a tendency to be absolute dicks when teaming with you in doubles. More often than not the CPU doesn’t register your presence on the court, and gets in the way of shots you’re about to take. This is especially frustrating when you’ve fully charged a star shot only to have your CPU teammate lazily walk in front of you and butcher it.
Playing in solo matches against the CPU is surprisingly good, with the computer bringing its A-game when you up the difficulty, promising some close and tense matches.
Also adding to sporty things you can do is swing mode, which is much like Wii Sports tennis, where you swing a joy-con around hoping not to smash your TV. I was surprised by how much I liked this mode, it’s surprisingly fluid and hard to master.
Considering I played Mario Tennis Aces pre-launch, the online features were more or less unavailable, so we’ll be sure to discuss how that performs at a later date. Based on the online tournament demo a few weeks back, I’m excited to see how it goes!
As for characters, Mario Tennis Aces has a nice release selection with a range of player types to experience, and the promise of more characters to come is only a good thing. The diversity of courts is fantastic, with visuals you’d expect from the Mario franchise. The soundtrack and sound effects are all spot on, however the commentary from the Toad commentators can become a bit grating if you’re putting in a long session. Performance wise Mario Tennis Aces works well in both handheld and docked modes, with smooth performance when switching between the two.
Overall Mario Tennis Aces is a solid title with a good variety of modes. The adventure mode might not be the slickest Mario adventure on the market, but it’s still fun enough to play through with its short play time. The real fun comes from multiplayer play, with tournaments, matches with custom rules and swing mode all being fantastic. I’m looking forward to seeing how the online modes perform upon full release.
Mario Tennis Aces is available on the Nintendo Switch from June 22.