Casey, Neal, and Donald hit the court to test their skill.
Neal Ronaghan, Owner: I've been cautiously optimistic for Mario Tennis Aces since it's announcement. Aside from the neat little handheld RPGs on Game Boy, I don't think I've truly loved a Mario Tennis game since Nintendo 64. They've been on a downward trajectory since then. I haven't seen enough of Aces to firmly say it bucks the trend, but my cautious optimism might have shed the cautious qualifier.
The basic tennis mechanics are excellent, but what makes this so intriguing are the new elements, such as the concept of energy, more frequent special attacks, and weirdly, fighting game allusions. In addition to just hitting your lobs, slices, and drop shots, you can also basically use magic to slow down time or quickly send your character over to save a potentially lost shot. It's fast-paced and can be tough to adjust to, but it mostly clicked for me after about 10 matches. Hitting your opponent with special shots can break their racket, and outside of winning a set, you can also win by knockout, which is hilarious.
The nine characters available in the demo were all fun to experiment with, though since everything can be ranked, here's where I stand on the characters here. Chain Chomp is the best, followed closely by Bowser. I currently prefer the bigger more powerful characters. Waluigi's hair makes him a solid third while Peach's versatile speed makes her my fourth favorite. The fact that Spike hides the ball in his mouth puts him in the middle of the pack, followed closely by Rosalina's crazy curving shots and Yoshi's good speed. Mario's alright and I think Toad is too tiny and I didn't like playing as him. I give the game a hair out of 10 right now.
Casey Gibson, Associate Editor: When it comes to Mario sports games, I’ve always enjoyed Tennis, but Golf has been my bread and butter. So when Mario Tennis Aces was announced, I was happy, but not as ecstatic as I would have been had they decided to bust out the clubs to hit the links. But that all changed after getting a weekend on the court because quite frankly, outside some internet connection issues, Aces serves up a damn good time and left me thirsty for more.
With each iteration of Mario sports titles, Nintendo likes to add a new feature or mechanic that helps to keep it fresh, but more often than not I find myself exclusively playing the more conventional rule set. However I can already tell that won’t be the case with Aces because of how well the new mechanics work without giving one player an insurmountable advantage. Now before we get into the new stuff, we have to cover the basics and boy do they feel more crisp than ever. Movement is fluid and the array of shots you’ve come to learn and love, including that devastating drop-shot, are present. Story mode is making a comeback, but Nintendo isn’t ready to pull back the curtain on that just yet.
New to the mix are something called zone shots, which pauses the game momentarily allowing you to aim and delivery a high speed shot. The beautiful thing about these are they don’t automatically win shots because of something called zone speed, which allows the defensive player to slow time to better position themselves to counteract the zone shot. Now it is possible to block them without the use of zone speed, but it is much more difficult. If you mistime a block attempt you’ll end up shattering your racket and if you lose your full stock of rackets, it’s game over (something that sadly lost me two championships). You can’t continuously spam these abilities because they consume energy which is something you’ll want to conserve when you can. Another cool addition is the trick shot, which makes for a last ditch effort to get to the other side of the court, but also can be a game changer because if successfully timed it’ll give a big boost to your energy bar.
The demo itself only consisted of one game mode, the online tournament and featured nine characters, many of which would unlock after accumulating a certain score ranking. Of the demo roster my two favorites happen to be the last two you unlock, Rosalina and Chain Chomp. Rosalina’s play style is tricky and gets great movement on her balls and Chain Chomp is capability of really rocketing the ball across the court. As far as how online went, for the most part I didn’t experience too many issues. The occasional connection was dropped, but always before stepping onto the court. Luckily tournament mode allowed you to pick back up where you were in the bracket without having to restart the entire thing. There were a two times when it lagged pretty hard and then for the remainder of the match my characters actions were about a half second behind each input which certainly didn’t feel good. Nintendo definitely has some work to do with the online connectivity, but as for the contents of the game, I’m very pleased with what we played and am eager to check out what else Mario Tennis Aces has in store for us in just a few weeks.
Donald Theriault, News Editor: I didn't get a chance to dive into the demo until Sunday, so I was well familiar with the consensus to avoid players with low quality connections. Despite that, I still got booted from a tournament after a communication error with someone with three bars of connection quality when my first round match worked fine. Hopefully the complaints about constant drops will be fixed in the final version.
Online issues aside - it was a beta, after all - I enjoyed the core game. Building up to a special and destroying rackets to win by KO seemed quite broken against the AI, but in trying to play normally I finished with about a .500 record which is what I was hoping for going in. I can imagine this game being a hit with my friends locally, so I'll be looking into my preorder options coming around E3.