Mario Tennis was left wanting with the 3DS and Wii U’s entry in the Mario Tennis franchise. While the base mechanics were solid, there was very little else added to the title that made it worth playing over the older entries in the series and both shown little advancements. With Mario Tennis Aces, it is clear Nintendo wishes to change the franchise and breathe new life into the once hailed Mario sports titles, but it’s not without its missteps.
The most immediate and obvious change in this latest Mario Tennis outing is the overhauled mechanics. While previous Mario Tennis titles function more as a sports game, Mario Tennis Aces take a page out of fighting games and merge concepts that require a new level of tactics and strategy as a tennis match goes on. Most of these changes revolve around the newly introduced energy gauge, functioning much like other meters in fighting games, it sits in the top left of your screen and dictates your ability to perform three new mechanics: Zone Shot, Zone Speed, and Special Shots. To perform any one of these moves, a certain amount (or all) of your energy gauge must be used; it is here where these fighting game style mechanics begin to shine.
As you are limited to the frequency or ability to use mechanics that use the energy gauge, you are forced to make constant choices and decisions. Do you use the zone shot now, knowing that your opponent has a full energy meter and is one score away from winning the set? Or do you hold off and hope to win another way? In many of times during my play, I would find myself questioning or debating my strategy on when to use my abilities depending on where I was in a match and where my opponent and I stood. Sometimes the potential of a Special Shot was enough an intimidation to win the last set I would need, as they were too concerned about the potential of one happening. In others, overusing my abilities became my downfall, as I was unable to defend shots for when it mattered most. It is these kinds of questions and decisions that you will find yourself constantly making in Mario Tennis Aces, but it doesn’t end there.
Of course, there are decisions to be made for using the energy gauge, but there are also risks and rewards for trying to fill it. Filling the energy takes on two main forms, charging shots and using trick shots. In the case of charging your shots, taking the time to charge a shot and landing a hit will refill the energy gauge and managing to fully charge a shot will reward the most energy. Trick shots, on the other hand, carry the most risk vs. reward by both restricting movement, but also provide the ability to move great distances. While this may sound contrary, trick shots force the character to move a set amount of distance at a set amount of speed. What this results in is that for a player to successfully land a trick shot, they need to be aware of where the ball will be and where they are currently to land a trick shot. Use a trick shot and move past the ball? That’s a miss and leaves the character locked in the animation.
It’s these additions, in conjunction with one another that take Mario Tennis Aces and moves it past just a sports game by mixing in fighting game mechanics that forces a more complex ebb and flow to a match. Mechanically speaking, it is one of the more complex sports titles, but the way it is presented in Mario Tennis Aces lends itself perfectly to the mechanics of tennis and creates a system that forces greater risk and rewards in addition to forcing players to strategize past each volley. It is here where Mario Tennis Aces shine, the base mechanics are superb and tennis simply hasn’t been this enjoyable since the N64 era. For where these mechanics are solely on display, such as in multiplayer, the game is at its best.
While the mechanics in multiplayer may be phenomenal, much like the rest of the game, everything else surrounding it is left wanting. Multiplayer features only three modes leaving much to be desired in terms of variety and becomes a question of how much do you like the base mechanics of the game. If you enjoy them, then multiplayer will feel like a natural extension to enjoy more of those mechanics. However, if you were hoping for more besides the most basic of game modes offered, you won’t be finding it here. Perhaps one of the most frustrating things regarding online multiplayer is the lack of true progress and having every encounter be structured in the form of a tournament. While the tournament structure for online certainly has the added benefit of making it feel like you have made real progress if you have won, unlike other online ranking systems, it lacks relaying actual progress in terms of that rank. Your score that displays your rank is cumulative, win or lose, it still rises, and fails to relay true progress in relation to all the other players and can really remove an important element in progression in a game that is so heavily focused on online multiplayer.
Unfortunately for Mario Tennis Aces, single player isn’t exactly a bastion of variety either. The story is as basic as it comes, with Luigi being kidnaped and it’s up to Mario to save him from an evil tennis racket. To save Luigi, you must collect five power stones to do…something. Truthfully, I am not entirely sure what the power stones do as it’s such a forgettable point to the story that I can no longer remember. Thankfully, the story in Mario Tennis Aces treats them much in the same way as anytime you supposedly earn one, you don’t actually see what they look like, but instead, see a chest open up and have your partner Toad exclaim that you found a power stone and you need to go find the next one.
This speaks to the general theme of the single player as a whole. Each level typically features some sort of challenge, and at first, they are interesting. This may include having to hit a certain number of Shy Guys with snowballs or even trying to figure out the correct shot to use on a mirror that allows you to complete the challenge within the time frame. In each case, the first time you are presented with it, it’s interesting and new, but eventually, you are presented with it again, and again, finally removing all the charm and turning the single player into a chore. Even the boss battles, which feature some of the more interesting mechanics, eventually become lost to repetition. The single player does attempt to add things such as RPG elements with Mario leveling up as you progress and acquiring different rackets with improved stats, but truthfully, I was never aware of any of the changes or differences leveling up provided, making it feel like a system that was tacked on for the sake of giving the illusion of progression.
Mario Tennis Aces has a solid foundation in terms of mechanics, but everything surrounding it except for the most straightforward features lacks the variety and polish to push this game into something great. It’s still a very enjoyable title to pick up and play, the multiplayer both online and off is great and some of the series highpoints, but if you were hoping on starting your Mario Tennis career with this entry expecting a fleshed out single player and diverse multiplayer, it might be best to look elsewhere.