Review: Mario Tennis Open

I’m a big tennis fan. In fact, I played three years of tennis in high school and ranked sixth place in doubles in Europeans. I’ve always been disappointed that there aren’t many good tennis games out there. When I heard Mario Tennis Open was coming out, I thought back to some of the more memorable tennis games I’ve played. Top Spin 2 was a disaster. I remember being excited that Andy Roddick was in it, and then I remember gritting my teeth the entire time I played it, vowing to myself that I’d beat the game regardless of the mechanics. The tennis minigame in Wii Sports wasn’t bad, but I couldn’t do well at it playing like an actual tennis player. In fact, the only tennis game I could remember legitimately liking was Mario Tennis for the Game Boy Color. One kid my grandma babysat owned it and let me borrow it for a few hours while he played one of my games.

I fell in love. I borrowed it for the night and had it beaten entirely by morning.

So, drawing on the good memories I had with Mario Tennis, I wondered how Mario Tennis Open would fare. Would it do the original game justice, or would it end up like many of the other tennis games I’ve played?

Mario Tennis Open
Systems: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Nintendo, Camelot Software Planning
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: May 20th, 2012
MSRP: $39.99

Mario Tennis Open is a pretty self-explanatory game: you play tennis as Mario characters or your Mii. There’s no plot, but one isn’t necessary. The game doesn’t draw out some ridiculous scenario where playing tennis saves the world or something; you just play tennis. I will note that this is different from previous handheld installments, but it’s not a change I really mind.

In essence, there are two ways you can play Mario Tennis Open. You can use the traditional fixed camera view, which gives you a distanced third-person view of the whole court. If you use this view, you’re responsible for moving your character and aiming your hits by using the circle pad or the D-pad. Alternatively, holding the 3DS vertically enables the gyro sensor and disables the 3D unless you turn this feature off, which you have to do on a match-by-match basis. If you’re using the gyro sensor, movement toward the ball becomes automatic and you aim by rotating the 3DS, most easily done by twisting your torso. I liked using the gyro sensor for shorter matches, but as matches went on, it felt almost like the system wasn’t centered anymore and it was difficult to get it to do what I wanted. Switching to the fixed camera view was fine for those, but then I felt like I missed out on my ability to do the more extreme angled shots I wanted to do. The gyro sensor has a safety feature of sorts to prevent you from hitting the ball at so extreme an angle that it would obviously go out, which is nice. The traditional view has one as well, but I feel it’s more limited, which makes later and more difficult matches more frustrating, especially since they tend to be long enough that the gyro sensor is a hassle to deal with.

The controls for the game sound more complicated than they are, and I picked them up in about five minutes. To hit the ball, you have a variety of options. Hitting X gets you a standard shot and will automatically do the appropriate shot over a chance shot area, but at a weaker power than hitting the button you’re supposed to hit. Hitting A gives you a topspin shot, which is faster due to its forward spin. B gives you a slice, which is the opposite: it’s slower due to its backward spin. Y gives you a flat shot; this shot is fastest but has no spin, hence the name. Y also allows you to hit smash shots. Pressing A and then B will make the character perform a lob, which is a ball that goes very high into the air and generally lands at the back of the court. B and then A will make the character perform a drop shot, which is a really soft shot that generally goes right over the net and drops.

Additionally, if you press A while an opponent is serving or receiving the ball, your character performs a taunt that will make his/her next shot stronger. If you’re charging a shot and want to cancel it, you can press L. Pressing R before your serve or during an opponent’s serve cycles through three shot panel configurations that you can use instead of pressing buttons. The shot panels are essentially what I’ve listed above, but instead of pressing buttons, you tap an appropriate area on the screen (I don’t recommend it, but it’s an option). Not pressing R during a serve can also help you reach the ball to make an emergency return.

Chance shot areas are places where your player or the opponent can run to in order to charge up a shot. The color of the area will determine what kind of power up it is. A red chance area will create a flaming topspin that will push the receiving player back, and a blue one will launch a curve ball that will make the receiving player spin for a few seconds. A yellow chance area creates an extreme log, a gray chance area creates an extreme drop shot, and a purple chance area launches an extreme smash shot. The red and blue chance shots’ negative effects can be mitigated somewhat if the receiving player uses the opposite shot (slice for red, topspin for blue), but to defeat the others, player placement is key.

After you create a file with your Mii, you will be given a variety of options. You can play single player, local multiplayer, online multiplayer, and StreetPass. You can also check out your club house. Since I didn’t know anyone in my area who had purchased the game yet, I was unable to try out local multiplayer or StreetPass, so I don’t feel like I can adequately comment on those particular features.

Selecting single player gives you three options: you can play in a tournament, an exhibition match, or special games. In a tournament or exhibition match, you will play either singles or doubles; if you play doubles, an AI will be your partner. While selecting characters, you can make someone left-handed by pressing L or give them star rank by pressing R if you’ve beaten the Champions Cup with them.

Essentially, an exhibition match is one match against an AI (or two, if you select doubles). After you select your character and the difficulty, you select one of an initial seven courts—later eight—which vary on bounce and ball speed, and then on how long the match is. You can play one, three, or five sets; and you can play two, four, or six games a set. One thing I like is that you can select the difficulty, initially Novice, Intermediate, and Expert. Beating the Champions Cup will unlock Pro, and beating the Final Cup unlocks Ace, the most intense difficulty.

A tournament should be pretty self-explanatory: you play against other characters, all competing for first place. There are four tournaments each for both the World Open and the Star Open. The Star Open is unlocked once you beat the Champions Cup for the World Open. Note that once you unlock a cup, you can play that cup with any character, which makes getting star rank for all your characters a lot easier. This is a change from previous titles, which required you to clear all three cups prior to the special cup in order to earn that rank.

I liked the tournaments fine, but my major complaint against Mario Tennis Open falls into this particular part of the game. The World Cup is easy, to the point where I could get a love score (meaning no one got points against me) for all three matches of all four cups. I have no problem with this as I’m a twenty-three-year-old who has experience playing both tennis and this particular series, and you want to make a game enjoyable. My issue comes with the Star Open. Not much changes in the Star Open as far as AI intelligence goes. The angles and types of shot are pretty similar to that of the World Open. My complaint here is that it seems the opponent gets more power ups than anything. I can remember going entire games without seeing a power up, yet the other side would get predictable patterns that are practically impossible to break. It would get to the point where I’d be playing and say to myself, “What’s that? Mario’s going to get three purple chance shots in a row and use all three? Oh, there’s a fourth one and he used it, of course. Point for Mario. That’s nice. Oh, I know this one. Peach is going to get a red chance area that’s going to push me so far back regardless of whether I use slice that I won’t get to a proper return area in order to block that smash shot she’s going to use with that purple chance area.” I would also be sarcastically surprised when I managed several times to get up 40-0 and then see an amazing comeback from Luigi when playing him in the final match of one of the cups. This made playing incredibly frustrating after a while. It wasn’t a fun experience.

I guess my main beef with this particular circumstance, however, is the idea that it’s these flourishing shots that make people win tennis. Tennis is a strategic game if nothing else. It’s about angles and finding your opponent’s weaknesses and playing to that weakness. It’s not a game where you just smack the ball as hard as you can and hope something sticks. So not being able to control the angles the way I wanted to and having either character rely on these probably overpowered chance shots in order to win matches feels not very tennis-like. I had more opportunity to play with angles and shot types in the World Open than the Star Open because most of my energy was focused on the opponent having all these chance shots. This was really disappointing since I was able to get love scores for entire cups on World Open.

The special games are different mini-games you can do in order to obtain coins to use in the clubhouse. There are four options: Ring Shot, Super Mario Tennis, Galaxy Rally, and Ink Showdown. There are four difficulties to each of these games: Novice, Amateur, Pro, and Challenge. Beating each difficulty unlocks the next highest difficulty, so beating Novice unlocks Amateur and so on. Beating level 3 of each game will unlock characters, and beating level 4 will unlock outfits.

Your goal in Ring Shot is to hit the ball through rings in order to score a specific amount of points within a certain amount of time. This game is fine enough, especially since the “opponent” only really focuses on getting the ball back to you, so you can manipulate where the ball goes to come back to you in order to make the task a bit easier. The only thing I don’t understand is why you get penalized for your opponent missing the ball. When you miss the ball, the time keeps counting down until the other player serves it, which makes sense. You messed up. You missed the ball. But why doesn’t the timer stop whenever the opponent misses the ball? It’s not my fault they missed. I shouldn’t get penalized by having to wait on them. Other than that, though, this mini-game is fine.

In Super Mario Tennis, you are essentially hitting the ball against a wall that has Super Mario Bros. playing on it. your goal is to get the ball to the goal before your time runs out. Hitting objects like enemies, coins, and blocks add to your time. You can also obtain power ups just like in the regular games, although getting a mushroom doesn’t increase the size of your ball. This mini-game is the only exception to the difficulty outline in that, instead of Novice, Amateur, Pro, and Challenge, you get levels 1-1, 1-2, and so on from the game. This mini-game is a bit frustrating because I don’t feel the marquee moves fast enough, but it doesn’t explicitly bother me to a level where I’d complain about it a lot. I don’t mind this mini-game, either.

In Galaxy Rally, your job is to keep a rally going while collecting star pieces and avoiding the holes. This game is fairly easy, though in subsequent difficulties, the two panels that you last hit will disappear temporarily, making it a bit more difficult. This is probably my favorite mini-game as it’s challenging, but not to the point where it’s frustrating. The star pieces aren’t located in places where the inability to control angles as well as I’d like becomes an issue. I also get to utilize different shots in order to get those other shots, so it’s actually more strategic than any of the other modes of play.

Ink Showdown requires you to return balls so that the character on the other side of the net can’t hit them. Sometimes, the ball you’ll get is actually an ink ball, and if you don’t hit it, ink will be on your screen for the next shot. I wasn’t really a fan of this mini-game, which is probably understandable considering my complaints about controlling angles. I just thought it was tedious. In the end, what I wound up doing was lob the ball every time to the opposite end of the court the opponent was currently at, which worked most of the time.

I would’ve also liked to have seen an Item Battle mode, which is missing from this particular title. This would’ve been a good alternative to earning coins in the mini-games, which can get old after a while. There isn’t any other way to get coins (which are useful in the clubhouse, as explained below), and farming these mini-games seems like it’d be really tedious and boring after a while. I wish they’d included some other way to get these coins, such as by letting us use play coins from the 3DS system itself or something, but even that wouldn’t have made it much better. Another way to play would’ve been the best option here.

You’re probably going to get the best replay value from online and, I imagine, local multiplayer. I played with a writer from another gaming site, and we had fun playing. The only problem with online multiplayer is that I couldn’t play with him on a Doubles team, only against. Since neither of us were particularly interested in being competitive at that point in time, that was a bit disappointing. Sitll, it was fun to play against another human being, especially one who lives nearly 1000 miles away from you, and not experience any issues. It was actually far more exciting to play him than it was against AI characters.

The clubhouse is where you can spend those hard-earned coins. If you go to the item shop, there will be a variety of rackets (forty-eight total), uniforms (forty total), wristbands (forty total), and shoes (forty total) based on in-game characters and power ups. You can then equip those items, as well as any of twenty-six costumes that you unlock, via specific tasks. For example, if you buy 100 different items in the item shop, you get a Boo costume; if you turn two characters into star characters, you get a Fire Mario costume. These items will help determine your power, spin, and movement.

Visually, the game is appealing. The game works both in 2D and 3D, and the characters and courts are well-designed. The outfits are a nice touch. Over all, it’s a very cute game. Additionally, the score for this game is exciting. I think it fits very well. Maybe it was just me, but some of it sounded reminiscent of Kirby, which was interesting since it’s a Mario title. Either way, it was very good music that changed at appropriate times. I have absolutely no complaints in that department. My Mii was a little annoying-sounding, but honestly, I rarely paid attention to it.

A new added feature this time around is the ability to get downloadable characters via AR codes. Right now, there are seven unlockable Yoshis, who are all different colors. I’m hoping that we’ll be seeing more in the future, though other than Toad, I’m not sure who we’d add to the twenty characters that are already there (not including the unlockable Yoshis). I guess it’d be nice to see Alex and co. from the original game.

Mario Tennis Open is a nice addition to the Mario Tennis franchise. It’s not as memorable as the GBC version I played several years ago, but it does well enough and nicely utilizes some of the 3DS’s newer features that the GBC didn’t have. What hurt this game the most was the possibly overpowered but definitely far too frequent chance shots. This is one of the better titles I have for the 3DS and it’s one I see myself playing in the future, especially against other people.

PROS
* Fixed perspective works just as well as in other games
* Inclusion of gyro sensor capabilities nice for short games
* Many options on how to play the game (e.g. buttons vs. touch screen, gyro sensor vs. fixed perspective)
* Mini-games work well for the most part
* Wide variety of Mii character customization
* Plenty of unlockables, different methods of unlocking (e.g. accomplishing tasks, AR codes, etc.)
* Mutiplayer is great
* Visually appealing
* Musically appealing

CONS
* Gyro sensor gets weird in longer games
* Not as good of control over angles as I’d like
* Chance shots are a pain
* Not enough ways to earn coins for the clubhouse
* Would’ve been nice to have the item battle mode

FINAL SCORE: B

Disclosure: This game was not sent by Nintendo. At the time of writing, the reviewer had put 20 hours into the game.

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