After a lack of such a title on DS, Mario Tennis Open is the plumber’s first foray onto the court since Mario Tennis: Power Tour on the Game Boy Advance. Since then, there have been some changes, both good and bad, to the Mario Tennis handheld formula. The biggest thing worth noticing in Mario Tennis Open is the similarities this game is taking to the original console titles. For instance, there is no longer any RPG or story mode to sink your teeth into. This might be seen as a negative to some (as it originally was to me), but I’d like to think that Nintendo made other moves to make it so a story mode wasn’t as important.
For one thing, the mechanics in Mario Tennis Open are much more developed than they ever were in any of the Game Boy titles. In the original handheld experiences, there was a limited number of shot types you had in your arsenal, with maybe a light interesting Mario twist tossed in, but that was it. In Mario Tennis Open , every shot you would want in a tennis game is available in addition to new Chance Shots that have special capabilities. For instance, a Fire Flower chance shot engulfs the tennis ball in flames and pushes the opponent back, while a Bob-omb shot would slow down as soon as it crossed the court and bounce quickly as if a heavy bomb was just tossed. In case you were wondering, these replace the individual Power Shots from previous titles. While some of the personality in characters is lost, the gameplay is so tight between the 16 or so characters (counting some QR-exclusive Yoshi variants) that you likely won’t even notice it.
For less-experienced players, there is a special mode that places the camera directly behind the back of the player, allowing them to move automatically and aim by moving the 3DS in the direction you want to hit. It makes the game easier, which is good if you need it, and it does offer something only the 3DS can do. Thankfully, the 3D turns off in this mode, so there’s no need to worry about ghosting from turning the system too much.
The content of Mario Tennis Open , while not necessarily as beefy as other handheld games, attempts to rival the handheld games by creating experiences players will want to go back to. At the base level, there is your Tournament and Exhibition modes. These are fairly basic, can be played in singles or doubles, and have multiple unlockable cup levels, and while the tournaments are pretty fun, the games can drag on for far too long. For instance, at some point, there will come a time when you have to take part in a five set match. To win a set, you need to best the other player in two out of three games, and to win a five set match, you have to win 3 out of five sets. This means that, at minimum, you need to beat the top CPU level opponents six games in a row to win the match. Exhibition matches are just single games allowing the player to set preferences in length of match as well as difficulty of opponent.
When you win these games, you get special clothing to customize your Mii character with. Although it may stink that you can’t customize other characters, I happened to grow attached to my Mii when playing this game. One possible reason for this is that, after you unlock a certain amount of clothing, the Mii becomes nearly unstoppable and more powerful than any other character with all of the versatility and stat boosts that the Mii exclusively has available. The other characters are fine, and even though their skill set can range from speedy to more technical, one character isn’t inherently better than another (except for the Mii). This signifies a relatively even balance between the established Mario-series characters which is good.
One other heavily featured aspect of the game is the Special Games mode, which has four mini games which can increase your tennis abilities as well as unlock secret characters. Ring Shot, as the title suggests, tasks you with getting the tennis ball through rings to get a certain number of points within the time limit, and stands as the most fun out of all of the different games. Super Mario Tennis places you in front of various scrolling levels of the original Super Mario Bros, and to play, you need to hit enemies in the level with the ball, get power-ups, and collect coins, also against a time limit. Galaxy Rally places you against Luma and asks you to hit the ball in certain quadrants, and Ink Showdown just makes you hit the ball in certain directions so the enemies don’t return it. These are all fun a few times, but they feel like inconsequential bonuses to the entire experience, and I was left wanting more by the end of it.
Finally, there is multiplayer. Available in local as well as online, it is simply playing against another person. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough options to match the online integration of say, Mario Kart 7, and the online is occasionally laggy, but it is still fairly addicting and passes the most time out of any of the other modes. And, there is single-card play in Mario Tennis Open , which still offers a worthwhile experience for two people even if only one person has the game.
I have to say though, that based on what I have played, I was left longing for more. The tennis mechanics are absolutely excellent and the best the series has ever had, and the presence of online is certainly admirable, but I just wish that there was something deeper to sink my teeth into. It didn’t have to be an RPG mode, but maybe if there was a cookie-cutter story on the level of Mario Superstar Baseball, it would have felt far more substantial. In its current state, Mario Tennis Open has wonderful gameplay, great sound and graphics, and almost succeeds in everything it tries to do. In the end, I just wish that Camelot tried to do a little bit more.