Are tacked-on motion controls an invitation for disaster?
You know how when you first try bleu cheese it's way too potent and abrasive, but then when you eat some more of it you realize it's the greatest cheese of them all? Hmm...no? Maybe it's just me. Regardless, that has been my experience with the New Play Control release of Mario Power Tennis. We already have a couple of reviews detailing the original Mario Power Tennis on the site, so this review will focus on what the Wii Controls bring to the table.
If you get the itch to try out tennis as a sport, after buying a racket and putting on some nice white shorts, it doesn't take long to grasp the different possible shots. Top-spin, back-spin, lob, drop shot, overhead smash...they all make perfect sense. Understanding how to execute them is a different beast, though. You can try again and again, and maybe one out of twenty drop shot/back-spin attempts will land so perfectly that it immediately bounces right back into the net, making it impossible for your opponent to return it. Even though it's far from repeatable, that one moment makes you feel like an all-star. The Wii controls bring this level of realism to Mario Power Tennis. While at first this was extremely frustrating for me, I grew to love it.
The first two releases of Mario Tennis featured a pretty significant learning curve. Michael Cole compared it to a fighting game in his review of the GameCube version, and I think that comparison works extremely well. It is very easy to tell the rookies from the experts in the Nintendo 64 and GameCube releases, and this often leaves rookies frustrated and walking away. A skilled player can run his opponent all over the court with a mix of perfectly timed lobs and drop shots that alternate between left and right court. While these early games are great in multiplayer if the skill levels are similar, it isn't the greatest party game if there is a gap.
As the New Play Control moniker suggests, the controls of the Wii release of Power Tennis are significantly different. You control your character with the joystick on the Nunchuk. Yes, you can move yourself. That alone gives this game a significant leg up on Wii Sports Tennis. For those looking for a less complex experience, if you unplug the Nunchuk the character's movement goes on autopilot. While in this mode the D-pad can be used to move your character, which is most useful for bringing your player to the net. The autopilot is a bit too good though, as it can often result in seemingly infinite volleys.
Advanced techniques, such as power shots and lunges are still controlled with buttons, but these abilities can be automated based on the control mode selected. There are four options: easy, normal, technical, and manual. I found myself preferring normal, which makes my character automatically lunge and decide which type of power shot to use, but leaves the actual performing of a power shot up to me.
Obviously, the racquet controls took on the biggest overhaul. All standard swings are done with a swinging motion of the remote. The force of your swing determines the speed at which the ball is returned. The manner in which it is swung determines to the type of shot, and there are quite a few. They are as follows:
- A horizontal swing does a standard shot.
- A horizontal swing going from low to high gives the ball top-spin.
- A horizontal swing going from high to low gives the ball back-spin.
- A vertical swing from high to low does either a smash or a drop shot, depending on the height of the ball.
- A vertical swing from low to high does a lob shot.
- Hitting the ball late or early in a swing sends it toward or away from the court's center, respectively
When Wii games try to differentiate among this many different gestures at the same time, the effect is rarely perfect. The first few times I tried to lob the ball over an opponent's head I instead performed a soft back-spin shot, giving him a nice piece of cake to slam back down my throat. I was ready to write the entire experience off as frustrating garbage. However, a few hours of gameplay later I began to notice something incredibly intriguing. I found my ability to hit consistent lob shots improving slightly. Was I actually getting better at my virtual tennis swing through practice? This is some amazing stuff.
Don't get me wrong. The imprecision of the controls will most likely keep all players from ever reaching the level of shot selection fluency possible in the original GameCube game. This isn't a bad thing, though. Being able to take on a strategy knowing that your opponent cannot always execute the perfect shot really adds the realism, and not always being able to hit the perfect shot makes the moments where you do all the more exciting.
Sadly, while I appreciate the realistic imprecision during a normal tennis match, it makes most of the mini-games worthless and frustrating. Given that these were originally designed with extremely precise traditional controls in mind, and those controls are not present in this re-release, they devolve into unpredictable and frustrating chores. For example, the wall-painting game tasks the player with hitting paint balls of varying colors into the proper regions to color the picture. After many attempts I came to the realization that all I was doing was randomly returning the shots and waiting until I got lucky enough to hit all of the proper spots. While this can be good for general practice, going for the fastest time is all but worthless. It might as well have been a dice rolling mini game.
Thankfully, this disparity in difficulty isn't as apparent in the computer-controlled A.I. during regular tennis matches. While the most difficult tournaments feature opponents that consistently pull off perfect shots, they don't require a similar level of perfection to be defeated. The difficulty also ramps up very evenly, allowing you to get better at the shots right along with your opponents.
There are a few other notable changes in the Wii version. Firstly, all menus are navigated using the pointer. While it would be a glaring omission if they failed to implement this, it's still nice to have it. The sound effects have also been modified to make use of the Wii Remote speaker: it's nice to hear Yoshi's patented grunt come through the remote as I hit the ball. The effect is really cool when playing four-player, as you can hear which of your friends is swinging their racket. The graphics don't feature any major changes, but the original was a great-looking game, and this version looks great on old and new televisions alike.
The original Mario Power Tennis was a great game on the 'Cube. This remake maintains the same charm and is definitely worth owning for someone who missed it the first time around. With its additional shot possibilities (and the ability to control your movement), Wii Sports Tennis looks downright primitive by comparison. If you still get a lot of play out of that game, you should consider moving up to Power Tennis. Similarly, if you are unhappy with the lack of depth in Wii Sports Tennis but like its premise, Power Tennis is right for you.