Multiplayer madness and Mario mayhem await in one of the best party games this generation.
Nintendo loyalists cherished Mario Tennis on the N64 back in 2000. Its brisk pace, streamlined controls, and competitive spirit made it one of the purest multiplayer games ever created. It also unleashed Waluigi upon unsuspecting Mario-philes and rescued Daisy from the vault of forgotten Nintendo extras. The N64 game was so excellent that most Nintendo fans questioned why Camelot would even bother with a GameCube sequel. While it admittedly isn’t a vital addition to the system’s library, Mario Tennis GC (Mario Power Tennis) is a must-have for multiplayer marathons.
Mario Tennis GC makes impressive use of the Mario universe’s characters, putting even the Mario Kart series to shame. The themed courts are full of personality: scrawled chalk lines define DK’s wooden deck court; Cheep-Cheeps swim under Ricco Harbor’s glass court; and the unlockable Mario Bros. court is ripped straight out of the arcade. Similar detail can be found in character animations: Waluigi prances about, Koopa (Troopa) spins in his shell, and (Bowser) Koopa stomps like the bad boy he is. The new power moves, many of which reference the rich history of the Mario series, are just as colorful. Luigi uses his trusty vacuum; Diddy has his jet pack; and Wario packs his sneaky gadgets. The characters’ trophy ceremony skits are cute, but they pale in comparison to the game’s brilliantly nonsensical CG intro and (both) gut-busting credits sequences. You wouldn’t know it from Golden Sun, but Camelot can be pretty darn funny.
Mario Tennis GC is a party game through-and-through, borrowing all of the original’s superb qualities. The concept and controls are simple enough for anyone to enjoy, but beneath the surface lies a game firmly rooted in technique. Those new to Camelot’s Mario Tennis series may be expecting a game of timing and will probably find themselves disoriented at first. As I explained in my initial impressions, all normal shots are executed through combinations of the A and B buttons. The tennis stroke is “sticky" in nature: pushing A or B initiates the stroke, and pushing A or B a second time will modify the shot’s path. The character will automatically follow through as the ball approaches, traveling in a direction partially determined by the control stick. The control stick may also be used to slowly adjust the character’s position while charging a shot.
Mario Tennis on the N64 almost classified as a fighting game: it included quick and weak strokes, stronger but slower shots, and sneaky drop and lob shots. The GameCube sequel arguably walks over the genre line with its addition of power moves. After some volleying, a character’s racquet will glow with power, and the player can then spend the energy on either a powerful attack by pressing R+A (or X) or a recovery shot with R+B (or Y). If an opponent manages to return the power attack with a standard stroke, he or she will be briefly stunned and will lose any energy stored—the aggressor will be similarly incapacitated while recovering from the attack. The recovery power shot provides an easy way to counter a power attack or any other difficult shot. Unlike the standard shots, characters commence their special shots as soon as the command is entered, so timing is important.
The two special techniques serve the same primary functions for every character, but there is a variety of subtle but important discrepancies. For instance, some characters will travel to the ball during their recovery move, while others will stand their ground and hit the ball indirectly. Both styles have pros and cons. If a traveling character’s recovery shot is used to return a ball far to the side, the player will find himself far from the action during his next shot. If a player is in poor position and his character does not move during the recovery shot, he will remain in the same horrible location for the next shot. Both moves have varying ball arcs as well: some characters put side spin on their special shots, others perform lob or drop shots, and a few rely on visual distractions. The special system, combined with other character attributes (e.g. speed, control, arm span, strength), ensures that no two characters are identical.
Mario Tennis GC includes a variety of gimmick courts full of baddies and other unpredictable surprises. The events and enemies are not random; instead, they are triggered by character and ball placement. While the specifics vary from court to court, most events will impede movement until the player triggers a remedy by either walking over a section of the court or hitting a switch with the tennis ball. The shenanigans are fun for a match or two at a time, but players will inevitably fall back to gimmick-less versions of the same courts or the standard cement, clay and grass locales after being “unfairly defeated" by ghosts, paint, or some other trap.
Camelot’s other attempts to spice things up fare less well. The ring shot mode, where players rally to collect rings before vying for the point, is more balanced than in the N64 game, but its competitive-cooperative duality could quickly destroy friendships. Half of the new mini-games are almost identical and mundane; the others are decent, but only with four human players. The Mario Kart inspired battle mode taints tennis with unwelcome randomness. Running away from red shells and toward the ball at the same is impossible; the game of tennis degenerates to dumb luck. All of the game’s extras boil down to interludes between serious matches. They do not spoil MT GC, but they fail to add the breadth Nintendo and Camelot intended.
Whether you classify it under sports, party, or fighter, Camelot has produced a fine game. If you are looking for an awesome pick-up-and-play multiplayer game this holiday season, you cannot go wrong with Mario Power Tennis – especially if you passed on the original. Even if you play with others infrequently or already own Mario Tennis (N64), the issue is really when and at what price you should add Mario Power Tennis to your collection. The extra modes may be trivial, but the game’s core is as addictive as Nintendo games come.
Mario Power Tennis can be purchased from our partners at Lik-Sang.