Surprisingly, there’s been a recent spate of Tennis games considering years of drought and Mario Tennis Aces is, by far, the best of the bunch.
That may appear to be a back-handed compliment considering the quality of the opposition, but Camelot have genuinely crafted something entertaining and lasting with Mario Tennis Aces for Switch.
With its easy pick-up-and-play style, clever mechanics, and varied styles, it’s one of Mario’s finest sporting efforts to date but it’s not without some blemishes.
So it has a few Aces up its sleeve?
More than a few. The much-touted Adventure mode is one, with its varied challenges, silly interactions, and quirky boss battles. Here, Mario and Toad must reclaim five power stones to combat Wario and Waluigi’s cursed Tennis Racket and restore peace to the Mushroom Kingdom.
Challenges start simply, with Mario volleying x amount of times with other characters and smacking the tennis ball at weak points, but over time you face increasingly tougher challenges as Mario tries to claim different racket types and earn XP to improve his agility and volleys.
Unfortunately, that’s one of Adventure Mode’s biggest gripes. The difficulty spike is obscene, like infuriatingly so. There’s no middle ground between beginner and advanced and before you know it, you’re beating your head against the wall against bosses who cheap shot, and opponents who gain one fluke after the next.
In particular, Blooper and his pirate ship can go and do one. After the first five times of the ghost hitting the mast of the pirate ship situated at the center of the court to bounce the ball to the opposite side and score past you again and again, let’s just say patience wears very thin. Especially when you try similar tactics and nearly always manage to fail.
And sadly, the challenges only get tougher from that point on. Really, Adventure Mode just does not let up with unrelenting punishment which makes one of the core components of the game a bitter pill to swallow. Not to mention the levelling up component of the game doesn’t really seem to offer any added benefits. I can’t say I noticed any improvements to Mario’s game as I moved up the levels. Actually, I thought most of my progression came down to dumb luck
Fortunately, the game also offers an online competitive mode in addition to tournament modes which allows you to test your skills in relatively fair competition against the AI as well as the rest of the world.
And this is where Mario Tennis Aces really shines with neat rallys, competing for power shots, zone placement, and clear tactical gameplay as you seek to take advantage of each character’s strengths and weaknesses. Pick an all-rounder like Mario and you’ve got a jack of all trades, but benefit from additional speed boosts with the likes of Toad or dish out some really tricky shots with Rosalina and the game truly starts to open up.
The tournaments follow basic Mario staples with Mushroom, Flower and Star Cups, each made up of progressively tougher opponents, with the Semi Finals of the Star Cup really ramping up a challenge. By that point, you’ll need to be taking advantage of as many of the game’s quirks as possible, such as body shots in an effort to break their racket.
See, Mario Tennis Aces isn’t just your usual Game, Set and Match fare. Yes, you follow the same rules, like having Deuce and Break Points, but you can also win a match by hitting the ball at your opponent with body shots which eventually leads to a KO. While not a preferred choice of mine, I’ve used it to some effect in tense battles and it really does add an additional edge of uncertainty as you try to progress.
Have Nintendo Served Up a Winner?
Yes and no. There’s a lot to like about Mario Tennis Aces, such as its playability, the local mulitplayer possibilities, including the Swing mode which basically lets you and a friend swing Joycons ala Wii Tennis, and the fact that the online component is mostly solid, save for some horrendous lag spikes here and there.
The Adventure Mode is hit and miss, with some jolly, memorable experiences to dervie from it, but the free play mode can really offer you the kind of game you want with the possibility for doubles and decent rule customisation.
And the roster is actually pretty special with a character type to suit all tastes. There’s even the opportunity to unlock characters early by playing online and getting to sample them ahead of those who’d rather just play locally.
Camelot have done a good job of introducing a Mario sports title to the Switch that not only suits the hardware but actually makes for one of the better online experiences for the console. It’s by no means perfect and isn’t likely to be a system seller for Switch anytime soon, but with many promised content updates, it also brings out this unusual and unexpected desire to want to get better at every turn.
Mario Tennis Aces can quickly get very competitive and addictive, but equally that desire can soon turn to frustration. But unquestionably, Mario Tennis Aces is the best Tennis game in recent memory and is likely to be unmatched for quite some time to come.
+ Fun and easy to play
+ Adventure Mode offers cool bosses and courses
+ Varied roster of different abilities
+ Always want to challenge yourself to do better
– The difficulty curve is incredibly harsh
– Some bad lag spikes in online multiplayer
– Never feels like sense of progression in Adventure and you’re often victim to unfair cheap shots
Mario Tennis Aces Review
7 out of 10
Tested on Switch
Code provided by the publisher