Camelot returns to Mario sports with a game that hits nearly as often as it misses.
Mario Tennis Open is a puzzler. On one hand, it’s a great tennis game that, much like its predecessors, is simple to grasp but also has depth. On the other, there just isn’t much to it. With a lack of strong single-player content, Open’s focus is shifted onto multiplayer, which, given how poor the online turned out, is disappointing.
The single-player content included is stretched to its limit, but it’s still fun. There are several tournaments of increasing difficulty to play through in both singles and doubles matches. During these tournaments, you unlock rackets and items of clothing for later purchase, but you don’t build up anything used to actually buy the gear. That’s where the Special Games come in. These mini-games, consisting of Ring Shot, Super Mario Tennis, Galaxy Rally, and Ink Showdown, are focused on improving aspects of your tennis game, and get pretty challenging in their later stages. Sadly, they also end quickly. Considering how much unlockable gear Open features, the game expects you to replay the Special Games ad nauseam.
The unlock system is oddly circular, requiring you to bounce between Tournaments and Special Games to unlock the ability to buy gear and build the funds to do so. It feels like an artificial lengthening of the game to make up for the deficiency in content. Even more frustrating: The only thing the gear does is afford your Mii a variety of clothing options. If you don’t want to play as your Mii, there is no reason to bother unlocking all of the gear.
It’s worth noting that the coveted RPG mode wouldn’t have fixed the issues with the single-player experience. Open contains all the content you’d expect from an RPG mode (unlockables, different play modes, upgrades/customization), but just puts a different hat on it. It’s streamlined, though that doesn’t really make it better or worse.
The controls are also streamlined when you use the gyro control method. Activated whenever you hold the system upright, your character automatically moves around, allowing you to plan your shot while you direct it by tilting the system. It's kind of cool how smoothly it integrates in the game (it even turns off the 3D), but it's not an optimal way to play Mario Tennis, especially since the 3DS version's normal controls are wonderful. Fortunately, for people who like to play the game while lying down or in another position where the system is held upright, this feature can be turned off.
Open’s multiplayer, which thankfully features single-card play, has potential, mostly if you know other people with 3DS systems. My experience with the online portion was disappointing, both because of lag and because of the limitations. There is a leaderboard and a Mario Kart-esque points system, but it still feels hollow, offering nothing more than quick or long exhibition matches. It doesn’t feature the Community aspect that was so cool in Mario Kart 7, and there are no tournaments to be found online.
Mario Tennis Open is a lot of fun, there is no doubt about that, but the small amount of content in the game makes the experience lackluster. Still, while I saw most of what the game had to offer in four hours, I kept on playing. Despite the lack of content, the game of tennis Camelot has crafted is addictive and fun. It might not hold a candle to the handheld Mario Tennis games in the Game Boy lineage, but Mario Tennis Open is a still great game that is sadly hampered by a small feature set and harebrained online.