How did Nintendo manage to fail with this one? With the summer months ahead and people interested in tennis, all they had to do was deliver a pleasing representation of tennis like they did back on the N64. Mario Tennis N64 was brilliant and a genuine crowd pleaser in multiplayer. Mario Tennis Aces seems to forget that it is meant to be a tennis game.
Things start off well enough, you have the normal tournament options and a brand new adventure mode. Look a little below the surface though and you see issues here. The adventure mode seems to withhold the best bits of the game from you, instead making you do frustrating challenge after challenge instead of letting you play tennis. It is akin to being forced to play the skill games in FIFA without ever being allowed to play the actual match. In fact, the game starts with the gorgeous graphics showing you Mario and Toad winning a doubles match. Had you been able to play these matches the game would have been completely different.
The adventure mode in this game should have been like Pokémon. Wander the map and have random encounters that are actual tennis matches of varying lengths, before making your way to a tournament that would serve as a ‘gym’. Instead, you are stuck on a linear path doing skill game after skill game while levelling up to fight a boss. When you do fight a boss it isn’t even a game of tennis it is just you returning the ball at them until they expose their weakness and you can do a special move.
The special moves themselves are equally misplaced. You build up your meter and then launch yourself into the air where you then see in a first-person perspective and have the chance to either hit a winner or fire a shot at your opponent to break their racket. Despite the clumsiness and ridiculousness of the special shot, the idea behind the racket breaking is genuinely good but even it exposes the most awful part of the game. The matches themselves are just too short.
People who buy this game probably want to play a game of tennis. The full fat, 2 or 3 set, 6 game version of the sport they know and love. They don’t want to have matches lat last one or two games let alone sets. Yet this is all Nintendo has seen fit to include. It is a shocking oversight in a game that had a genuine chance to be a new entry on the e-sport scene. All they had to do was copy the N64 version before adding a decent adventure mode. Instead, they have this stripped down version that feels like a mobile game and doesn’t give you any incentive to return after the first few times playing.
The tournament mode can be polished off in an hour and the adventure mode in around 5. After that, you are left with online or local multiplayer that will depend on your patience for the game. Unfortunately playing against a friend is equally complicated because of the special moves. The other move apart from your previously mentioned first person shot is the speed dash around the court. This lets you get into position Matrix Style, ready to defend against either a special move or a particularly well-placed shot from the opponent. Unfortunately in practice what this does is destroy any differences between the many characters as it lets Bowser move at the pace of Yoshi and so on. Had they just left out the super moves altogether or rethought them, there would be the makings of an excellent Tennis sim underneath. This is the illusion the game paints in its opening minutes as you actually enjoy knocking the balls around the court.
That early optimism may get you through the first play session but then you wonder what you are actually coming back for. You aren’t playing towards ranking points on a Mario-Style tennis world tour, you aren’t trying to unlock many different characters to use and in fact, aren’t even unlocking different arenas. You are simply playing a shallow version of the game you wanted to play. The adventure mode doesn’t even feature decent skill-based levelling up. You just seem to incrementally see bars raise yet not see it have any effect on the court. Instead, you remain as overpowered when it comes to a normal game of tennis as you are when the game begins. The only way you will face any opposition is in the general unfairness of some of the skill challenges. They are just tricky and some can be downright unfair, coupled with the longevity issue this just feels cheap and unnecessary adding to the desire to leave the game.
Unfortunately, I wanted to love this game. I had such fond memories of playing multiplayer on the N64 version and of course Wii Sports tennis, yet with Mario Tennis Aces, Nintendo has somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. It was a no-brainer, but the poor execution means that unfortunately, it falls well short of other games on the Switch.