Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64 proved to be such as massive success that it helped to pave the way for a whole series of other spin-offs with Mario taking up football, golf, baseball and even basketball over the following years. However, after a parting of ways with Camelot, fans have had to simply bide their time and make do with the Wii motion-control upgraded edition of Mario Power Tennis from the GameCube era rather than a full-blown new version. Thankfully, though, the relationship has been rekindled and the duo is back for this latest entry. Mario Tennis Open on Nintendo 3DS may not focus on the added 3D depth that the hardware can offer, but does hark back to the purer experience of the N64 iteration that certain factions thought had been lost in the transition to GameCube. Whilst that 64-bit classic still remains fantastic today, whether or not repackaging the same experience with some online shenanigans is sufficient enough is another question entirely.
In some ways it is good old Mario Tennis, with the same old characters making an appearance, from the Italian brothers themselves, to the ghostly Boo, the middle-of-the-road Yoshi and Daisy, plus the heavy hitters like Wario and Donkey Kong, all playing on a variety of different court styles and themes to attempt to spice up the traditional sport. Simply work through various tournaments at varying levels of difficulty, from the simplest of stages that can be overcome by most in mere seconds to the toughest that even veteran gamers will end up struggling to get to grips with. Thankfully the overreliance on power-ups and lengthy scenes that accompanied and plagued Mario Power Tennis have been removed, although their spirit still remains, with special panels appearing on the actual court now and moves being triggered when the correct shot is taken whilst standing over one of them.
The controls actually are quite the sticking point and will leave many people feeling torn between whether to love Mario Tennis Open or play until the final credits with a mere feeling of apathy and disenchantment that it feels empty compared not only to the very first game, but the two previous handheld outings as well. To entice a wider audience, Nintendo and Camelot have simplified the control system, with it now possible to merely tap on appropriate colour-coded boxes on the touch-screen to unleash lobs, slices, and the rest of the normal strokes. Anyone wanting to play the traditional ‘button input’ manner is free to do so, but the emphasis on making use of the on-court coloured special power panels means that it is more straight-forward to refer to the touch-screen’s colour key than memorise the button configuration for each colour set. Thinking you can win on standard shots alone? Good luck with that. Although not as ridiculous as in Mario Power Tennis, where one power shot meant the point was won 99% of the time, it still becomes unbearable to play a back and forth session where the fastest to react, manoeuvring into the right coloured circle and pulling on the appropriate move, is nearly always the outright winner.
Another reason for coming away from Mario Tennis Open without that adrenaline high is that it is over almost before it begins. Although the difficulty ramps up as more cups are unlocked, and there is the option to customise a personal Mii character, there is no real meat in the single-player dish. Both the previous portable outings featured pleasingly engrossing RPG modes, whereas this 3DS edition is very light on options, focusing more on the region specific and Friend Code online match-up and four-player local wireless from one 3DS card instead.
The key fresh inclusion that Nintendo has been touting is that of an upgradeable Mii character, with new items opening up the more cups have been beaten. However, despite various stat updates, the changing of outfits is definitely no replacement for a sturdy single player experience. Also, the game definitely encourages players to work through and grow accustomed to each character on the roster, not just the Mii, giving some special treats to those who persevere. What it lacks, as stressed before, is real incentive to keep coming back in solo mode. Anyone buying Mario Tennis Open and looking for a robust single-player mode, as in the previous handheld outings, will be sorely disappointed. There is no RPG mode to be found and only a handful of, albeit enjoyable, Special Games to tinker with; the highlight being the Super Mario Bros. mini-game, where hitting the ball against a wall emblazoned with the old NES game in a squash manner allows for progression through the platform title’s levels. Including StreetPass player information exchanges is a smart idea, but those hoping for a lengthier solo experience will end up finding those desires quashed.
Finally, there is a highly misguided attempt at using the gyroscope. Changing the angle of the 3DS unit itself means that players are supposed to ’become’ the player, moving the system around to change the viewpoint for shots. This quickly becomes extremely awkward after a couple of shots, and even causes issues when the 3DS thinks the angle has been altered too much and switches from gyro-to-standard mode and vice versa in the middle of, as bad luck would have it, important points!