Created by Camelot Software Planning in partnership with Nintendo Mario Tennis Aces is the most recent release in a long standing series of Mario themed sports games. There are a lot of Mario lead video games and they range anywhere from sports, epic role playing games or simple puzzle games but the Mario tennis series has often been considered a reliable but straight forward series. There is a formula to Mario Tennis games that’s been expected with each game in the series and Tennis Aces is no exception. The game contains; a campaign, local multiplayer and online mode, unlockable characters, elaborate tennis themed challenges and Nintendo’s classic attention to game design.
What it lacks however is Nintendo’s traditional focus on fun. Mario Tennis Aces fails hard and fails often to live up to the very well-polished gameplay that it offers at its core. While rallying can be satisfying with the weight and sound of the ball being extremely cathartic as you smash it across the court much of the gameplay itself ends up being tedious and at times extraordinarily frustrating. This is most obvious to see in the games single player story mode, where the player takes control of Mario to travel around a traditional Mario style world map completing “levels”. These “levels” almost always amount to similar tennis matches against various characters from the Mario universe in increasingly frustrating environments.
The issue that plagues that game can be best seen in one of the midway levels, which takes place on a boat in which the tennis court has a large mast going straight through the middle of the net. The player and their computer opponent have to then struggle with the ball ricocheting wildly off the mast in what is supposed to be a game of accuracy and anticipation. I could excuse these kinds of design choices if the game wasn’t taking itself too seriously and was going for an arcade style of gameplay but the difficulty of the game variously wildly and at times it has been the most difficult and grueling game experience I’ve had in a while. Some of the challenges took hours repeating the same 10 minutes of gameplay to overcome and it was confusing for a game that seems to sell itself as a for-all-ages family game. While the levels can take a long time to overcome there aren’t many of them and all of the role-playing elements that they tack on to the story mode are completely pointless.
The online and local multiplayer fare a little better since you get the benefit of sitting with friends or against other humans and just focusing on the more enjoyable parts of the tennis gameplay. However there is a considerable amount of imbalance between some of the playable characters which can lead to further frustration however if you keep things casual and good natured there is some genuine fun to be had in playing with friends.
Overall the game has some genuinely good gameplay that is crushed by bad design, imbalance and grueling difficulty that leads to frustration. I can’t recommend it in most circumstances besides as an occasional party game. I recommend parents who buy it for young kids to help them out with some of the more difficult parts of the story mode however kids should get a kick out of versing each other. I do however consider Mario Tennis Aces to fall short of Nintendo’s usual form and I hope they improve for the next game.
Review by Jeremy McConnachie
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