Alex discusses the value of what has become the subject of much argument in recent weeks.
One of the hotly debated aspects of Mario Tennis Open well before its release (and well after) was the lack of an RPG mode, a fan-favorite feature present in past Mario Tennis handheld titles. On one side of the debate, some people say Mario Tennis Open was created for the mechanics, and an RPG mode would not fit comfortably or improved the experience. On the other, the sentiment is that an RPG mode (or at least a lengthy single-player experience) needs to exist in the game, since it's a handheld Mario Tennis experience no matter what, and will seem malnourished without such a mode. After playing the game for almost 18 hours in a few days, I can sympathize with both sides to some extent.
It is certainly true that this game is no Mario Tennis: Power Tour. Sure, the story in the latter was kind of neat, but the tennis mechanics were barely developed, and there was almost nothing fun to do outside the story mode. The game also had six unimpressive playable Mario characters, which didn't do much for its creativity.
Mario Tennis Open is a handheld title that plays more like the console games. Its modes are limited, but have well-developed mechanics and the potential to last a long time with multiplayer and the like. And from playing this game for as long as I did, I can certainly see the appeal. Open is addictive, and I find myself going back to pick it up frequently for brief 20-minute periods to beat a tournament with another character or play a few rounds in a mini-game to earn some coins. An RPG mode with the experience I‚Äôve had would be awkward, and would have added three or four hours just to add three or four hours, likely featuring a throwaway story starring no-names. Well, that's what I thought at first, anyway.
That said, Mario Tennis Open is very bare bones. I love the depth of the mechanics, the uniqueness of the 17 or so characters (not counting QR stuff), and the mini-games‚ÄĒbut there is not enough here.
Pre-release information made it seem like there would be a bunch of great mini-games that improve your tennis game. There are four games, and only two of them (Ring Shot and Super Mario Tennis) are really any fun. The other two have limited appeal and are easily manipulated for higher scores once a strategy is learned. The online, a big focus of the game is occasionally laggy, with far fewer features than something like Mario 3D Kart.
There are two sets of tournaments to play, but those go from interesting to boring grind fests for the sake of unlocking special Mii costumes. (On a side note, I am really impressed with the integration of Miis in the game). There is no real challenge or motivation outside of obtaining unlocks that can't be found in a simple exhibition match. Even worse, five-set matches (amounting to six games in a round at bare minimum) are included in the tournament brackets, making even the most heated match drawn out and unexciting.
The game‚Äôs mechanics keep it interesting, and perhaps make my negative comments a bit harsher than they should be. And while I do love coming back to this stuff, I desperately wish there was something interesting and meaty to come back to, even if it's as simple as the single-player mode in Mario Superstar Baseball.
With good, simple mechanics and bare bones content, Mario Tennis Open ultimately feels like a really good launch title released a year after the system's original launch. I don't necessarily regret my purchase, but I'm not crying tears of joy for it, either.