Mario Tennis Aces is the first sports outing for Mario and friends on Nintendo Switch. Having been a fan of the franchise since the first installment on Nintendo 64, I couldn’t wait to hit the court with some of my favorite characters. While an enjoyable experience, Mario Tennis Aces succumbs to some shortcomings that prevent it from being a great experience.
Let’s start off with Adventure Mode. The story involves Mario and Toad as they are on a journey to reclaim five magical stones throughout various locations. Their primary goal is to prevent a malevolent presence from bringing evil to the world. Fortunately for these kingdoms, Mario is a master at tennis, and he’ll use the skills he’s learned on the court to save the world. If the concept sounds ridiculous, that’s because the story is utterly absurd, but you know what? Thanks to Mario’s charm, the narrative works.
Each of the kingdoms has a unique court, special challenges, and a challenging boss fight. Every court features an obstacle used to throw you for a loop. For example, Savage Sea takes place on a pirate ship, and part of the crow’s nest is used to block your shot. In Mirage Mansion, mirrors are used to transport your ball to another part of the field. In Snowfall Mountain, Shy Guys leaving a train station will hit your ball at random locations. The different courts are fantastic, and the special challenges in each world offer enough variety that Adventure Mode never feels dull.
In fact, some challenges are elaborate puzzles that will test not only your reflexes, but also timing, memorization, and your ability to decipher various sounds. The development team put a lot of thought into the Adventure Mode, and it shows. Bosses are also difficult and often have the most fun levels in the entire story.
As with most video games, you get stronger through natural progression. Mario Tennis Aces is no exception. After every level (win or lose), Mario will gain experience that will increase his Shot Speed, Run Speed, and Agility. In addition to improving his physical attributes, Mario’s tennis rackets also grow stronger. The rackets can deal more damage, take more hits before breaking, and increase their health meters by leveling up. This is important because, in Mario Tennis Aces, there’s a new mechanic that can make or break every single match. In this game, your racket has a health meter. That sounds weird to say, but it’s one of the best inclusions in the entire game.
In every match, your racket starts out with a specific amount of lives. More often than not, your racket will have two lives, and three hit points per life. When you execute a power shot, your opponent has a few choices: run out of the way and miss the shot; attempt to block the shot and miss, resulting in losing health; or successfully block the shot, and return the ball to your opponent. If you fail at blocking the ball multiple times, your racket will shatter and lose a life. If your life count reaches 0, the match instantly ends. It doesn’t matter if you were winning the entire match. If your character doesn’t have a racket anymore, they can’t continue. I won tense matches because I was able to force my opponent to attempt blocking my shots continuously.
The core gameplay is very deep, with a variety of shots, moves, and play styles for each character. Players start by serving the ball to their opponent. You can return a serve with a multitude of shots. There’s the “lob” that can be hit over an opponent, the “topspin” that gives the ball higher bounce, the “drop shot” that places the ball close to the opponent’s side of the net, and the “slice” that doesn’t provide a large bounce rate. With each hit, rally, and charge shot (holding down a button before hitting a ball back to your opponent), your character’s power meter increases. After a ball is hit back at you in a specific way, a star may appear on your side of the court. While under the star, you can execute a star shot that allows you to aim your shot at any part of the court.
When the energy meter is at maximum, you can choose to diminish all of your power for a strong attack that can do massive damage to your opponent. While trying to score is important, there are also defensive moves at your disposal. When balls are coming your way, you can spend energy by holding “R” to slow down time to reach the ball. This is also useful to help dodge star and power shots. Lastly, you can move the right stick (playing with two Joy-Con) to execute a leap shot to try to return a ball from across the field. This maneuver is often tricky, but the execution is rewarding.
While the game is fun, something that bothers me is the difficulty. In Adventure Mode, there is a set difficulty level. While some stages are challenging, none of them feel impossible. In Tournament Mode, there are three championship cups that feature moderately challenging opponents. The only place to change your difficulty level is in free play. While it’s cool to have customizable options, I would prefer to have those choices in all of the modes.
What will keep Mario Tennis Aces a game worth coming back to is the multiplayer. Fortunately, that’s where the game excels. You can play with up to four players via splitscreen on a local console. There is also wireless play (with up to four consoles) and online play. [Note: Online play was not available at the time of review. We will appropriately discuss online elements once Mario Tennis Aces launches this week.] Multiplayer features the same great gameplay found in all the other modes, but playing with other physical people provides a greater challenge over AI opponents.
Visually, the game looks fantastic in docked and handheld mode. Mario Tennis Aces runs smoothly, and I didn’t run into any noticeable bugs. The game’s audio also features the typical Nintendo charm found in different Mario games. The sound effects sound great. From the balls being hit to the characters’ reactions, there is a lot to admire about the audio elements.
Mario Tennis Aces has fantastic gameplay held back by barebones content and not much customization. While the Adventure Mode is entertaining and full of unique challenges, the other modes are quite dull. The tournaments can be completed rather quickly, and the AI opponents are not that fun to play against. Mario Tennis Aces is a game that will survive by the community. Multiplayer is definitely the highlight. Local multiplayer is a blast, and I see this being a huge party game for years to come. We’ll update this review once online features become available. As of now, this is a good game, but if the online aspects are strong and the servers are stable, Mario Tennis Aces can become the great game fans of the franchise have been waiting for.
Andrew Gonzalez is the Managing Editor of Xbox Enthusiast. When not writing about Xbox, he’s usually reading comics, watching Seinfeld, listening to Chvrches, and dreaming of the perfect Jet Force Gemini Reboot. You can follow him on Twitter. @AJGVulture89