Mario gives all GBA doubters a Power Shot to the head, as this game proves the system still has life left in it.
This game is significant. Mario Tennis Power Tour for the GBA is easily one of the best games made for the system (if not for other systems). It’s beautifully constructed, funny, and exciting. It is simply jam-packed with the joy of gaming.
The single player game (likes its GBC predecessor) is an RPG. You select your character (a boy or a girl), name him/her, and choose whether you’re right or left handed. The game begins in earnest at a central “home” area where you can save and switch between Singles or Doubles play. From then on, you’ll have certain stats to build, depending on the style of play you want to progress in, and you can balance that out by customizing your doubles partner’s stats in other fields.
The RPG aspect of the game is lighthearted and infused with innocently fierce competition. There’s no great evil threatening to destroy the land, just a tennis tournament to work your way through. Each time you progress, gaining more and more experience points, you’ll want to go further until you eventually reach Mario World to compete with the best. Yes, for some odd reason, the game uses “Mario World” rather than “Mushroom Kingdom.” My only hypothesis regarding this is that Mario just took over the entire planet after having saved it so often.
The look of the game is undeniably gorgeous. The backgrounds are cheerfully colorful, and the sprites are nicely detailed. The animations are fluid within the matches, and the ranges of emotions of the characters are hilariously expressed through either body language or icons appearing over their heads.
The controls are responsive and work smoothly, as the setup is simple and accessible, while allowing for a depth of strategy. For example, deciding to use either a slice or topspin hit depends on whether or not your character is left or right handed, where you and your opponent are located on the court, and the ball's current location. Plus, button combos allow for an even deeper layer of strategy.
There is one minor complaint I have about the single player game, and that’s the lack of cutscenes in Mario World. When you finally get to compete there, it’s as if you’d just opened the doors to the Land of Oz. I spent so much time working to get there that I wanted to savor it. But really, that’s insignificant; this game is more than I hoped it would be.
What I absolutely love in Mario Tennis is the AI on both sides of the court. The other teams have weaknesses you can exploit, but every doubles and singles match is different, giving you the opportunity to build your skills both offensively and defensively. As for your doubles partner, while he may occasionally miss, he doesn’t do so with any great frequency. You will rely on him quite often, which provides a wonderful sense of teamwork.
However, what would a game be if it were only a single player tennis RPG? Well, I’ll tell you what, my friend, this game comes loaded with several fun (but hard as nails) mini-games that you can unlock and use to build up experience or Power Shot points so that you can bring your A-game to the court. Oh yes, if you need a little boost on the court, try developing your jumping skills by breaking blocks before they move from one side of the screen to the other (complete with the 8 -bit Super Mario Bros. jumping sound effect).
Then there are the exhibition games. From the onset, you’re able to simply pick up and play a few doubles or singles matches. You can play as any of the originally available characters, plus those you have added on during the RPG mode. While there are many, many unlockable characters, there are, sadly, no more Mario-land characters to unlock. It’s a fairly meager cast in that aspect but certainly not a detriment to the gameplay.
In short: I love this game. Love it. It gives me a sense of exuberance that I feel is so rare in modern games. It brings everything into the fold: competition, accomplishment, skill, and story (however light); and it does all these magnificently.