Certain games just work. You pick them up and they drive you to play more and more until it hurts. When we first got out hands on Mario Tennis on the N64 eons ago we must have spent about a month solid playing it. Like a fat man who gets his hands on a pie this game doesn't let go of you until you have completed every last morsel, and then you can always come back to pick up the considerable crumbs. We take a trip back and enjoy one of the N64's greatest titles for old times sake.
Simplicity works for us. Things that require you to think and do all sorts of complex things are great, but when you just want to sit on your rear end and play a game for a little while something different is needed. You don't want to have to get into a big mission, you want something fast and snappy that tests you to the limits whilst keeping all the important things simple. This is the Mario Tennis philosophy. If it takes more than three seconds to do then it quite simply isn't worth doing. All need to know to hit the ball is how to push a maximum of two buttons and the fluffy sphere will fly back over the net, so, with controls mastered the game lets you free to go onto master the games real meat.
Now at this time we would normally go onto tell you all what the real meat of the game is, but this is one meaty game. There are so many aspects that make this game what it is, and without any one of them it would feel all wrong. Perhaps the most influential aspect is the differences and characters and what they can do and how they do it. A favourite character of ours is Donkey Kong, a big powerful oaf of a player. With not so much in the pace department but a superb serve and amazing forehand you need to aim for the corners before coming into the net and finishing off your opponent with a powerful volley or smash shot, however even if you get good with one character you have to account for all you opposites changing with each match to. Some will be slow and powerful like yourself, some will come into the net at the drop of a hat whilst others will just run about the baseline like a thing possessed. This is where it gets really tricky. You always have to be on top of your game, if your not then its game, set and match.
Tennis is a cruel sport, with just one hit it can all be over. One misplaced shot, one poor choice of stroke and all could be lost, and as Mario Tennis gets more and more difficult you have to make sure that you make each point matter. Whilst the control system is simple what can be done with it is superb. A and B produce different types of shots. A allowing you to add top spin and B giving you a low and slightly slower less bouncy hit. There is a stupid amount to think about in this title, and even with our outstanding levels of intelligence we can struggle at times to remember what to do and how to do it right on each stroke of the ball. This more or less gives you the easy bits, but the hard parts it keeps so close to its electronic innards that it sometimes makes us cry at night.
Graphics wise this title is more polished than the skin of David Dickenson. The N64 is notorious for making even the roundest of things look square, but Camelot bless 'em have managed to make this title more rounded than Jordan's orbs of silicone. The characters look just perfect and move with a great fluidity, and whilst this game doesn't try to be real if Mario was to play tennis in the real world (thus meaning Mario himself would have to be real) we can imagine it would look like this. The effects on the ball are also very pretty, we like pretty things you see. Blues, and sparkles, and bubbles, and feathers, all depending on what character you play as and what shot you use. Detail is everything, from the smallest pixel to the biggest shot everything is so well thought out making Mario Tennis a privilege to play.
To use a term we often pull out to describe Davina Mcall this one is a bit of a mongrel. It mixes up various different ideas and, unlike Mrs. Mcall, is an entertaining and fun package, something that is only bolstered by the excellent modes of play. With single and multiplayer modes you can have fun if you are a loner or a social junkie and Mario Tennis caters superbly for both. Multiplayer is just two simple modes. You can either play a single or doubles exhibition, playing with or against some of your mates, which can prove to be excellent fun when you are part of the winning team that makes your buddy ignore you and hide whenever you walk into the room. In this mode you can play short matches of just one set and three games, or a five set six game marathon that will easily eat a few hours out of your day. Perhaps the only disappointing aspect of the game is the excruciatingly annoying Battle Mode. Now this worked in Mario Kart 64 but in this title it is worse than having to endure the wrath of Anne Robinson. Hitting the ball with various weapons attached whilst the 'crazy' arena tips to make it all very 'funky' and 'spaced out' which quite frankly made us feel aggressive. Still in our very critical eye this was all we could find to be wrong. Single player is where some major gaming can be done. There is the cup mode, and with each cup getting harder and harder as you go through, and the hidden ones forcing you to sleep deprivation you will be sure to be taken to the edge and back by what can be a supremely challenging game. Wonderfully though it never stops 100% relying on your skill for you to proceed.
Even when you think it is all done there are characters to unlock, courts to be found and new cups to be unlocked along with various other secrets that make this game one of the most rewarding sports titles ever made. The sound adds to the whole tennis atmosphere. The crowd will cheer when you pull off an outstanding shot, and the umpire (Mario) will call out the scores in his world famous voice. The characters also have their only little grunts and growls. From DK making like a monkey to Luigi running about exclaiming 'Okay' and 'Yeah' to Peach making stereotypically womanly sighs and groans it is all here and it makes for a game that has it all. Those of you that enjoyed it all those years ago should go and get it out that box now and give it another spin, and the people that never bought it; shame on you! We might just have to get out our whip unless you pay the criminally cheap second hand prices to pick this one up right away.
The games best point. The controls are so simple to pick up and hitting the ball is a dream. You move about the court like a real player and you have to think hard on every shot to make sure you are in with a chance of winning that point. The added problem of each character playing a totally different game makes this a truly wonderful experience
Very round and smooth Mario Tennis looks just how it should. The courts are wonderful with a real sense of occasion. With nice bright colours and all the characters produced with remarkable detail and animation precision this game is a joy for your eyes.
Its great! Umpire calls, character noises and reactions and the amazed shouts and cheers from the crowd. Utterly superb.
This game is long. Very, very long. Even when you think you have completed it we can assure you that you probably haven't. Try completing that cup with a different doubles partnership and you might just get a new court to play on. Secret cups and players also await to give an extra incentive and an excuse to while away many an hour on this piece of gaming perfection.
It really is that good. Stuff your Tim Henmans and your Andy Roddicks all we want to know about it Wario and Paratroopa! Superb depth in gameplay and a wonderful feel for how the game plays in real life make this title a privilege to play. Add to that a superbly evil multiplayer and controls so perfectly balanced that you glide about the court with style and you have the best sports game on the N64. We normally don't wax lyrical about something unless it is very special, and judging by our comments thus far this title is well worth your attentions. It'll be your own fault if you ignore it.