Disappointment is just a few smashes away.
When I first played Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, I wasn't kind to it and my opinion on that front hasn't changed. It is a game married to a variety of problems and the weakest Mario sports game in a very long time. How did this happen? It left a disappointing taste in my mouth at E3 2015, but I was still hopeful. Ever since touching the review copy, that feeling has left my body. There is nothing more than sadness to be found here.
To change things up a little, let me first talk about the things that the game does right in my eyes. In passing, it can still be a decent local multiplayer game. You won't play it for long, but a couple of rounds is enough to get something out of it. The tennis mechanics are alright, even if it isn't level with Mario Tennis Open's feature set. The game is lovely rendered on the Wii U and everything seems well enough put together on the court. That being said, there is just one court and the character selection isn't crazy exciting.
This is my main gripe with Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. Even within the things it does right, I still find problems or nitpicks that doesn't suit the way I would play this game. The title is one without energy or excitement, which is why I would play it to begin with. Even when you look back at the N64 game, there were more stages on display, even if it was in the different modes of the game. Heck, the GameCube and Nintendo 3DS versions of Mario Tennis had a good amount of stuff on offer, despite the problems both games had. They gave the game flair and substance, which is the things lacking from the Wii U game.
When I look at Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, I don't see a fresh new take on a series I really enjoyed in the past. I see a gap filler that has nothing on offer for me in the slightest. There are five options and not one of them carries the weight this package so badly needs. Mega Battles, the big selling point of this game, is nowhere the game changer that it pretends to be. Mega Mushrooms are thrown to the court, you grow to gigantic proportions and you are somewhat stronger. All that it does is force the other player to defend a whole lot more. It is alright the first couple of times, but after that, you just really scratch your head in amazement.
Naturally, there is the regular tennis, which should be more exciting than it actually is. The lack of different stadiums is a visually draining experience, despite this stadium having various courts on offer. These courts have some neat effects, Morph Court in particular is cool to toy around with, but the overall atmosphere doesn't get the boost it requires. It causes a strange disconnect where I wanted to like what I was doing, but simply couldn't. That is the biggest disappointment overall I feel.
What doesn't help matters is that the offline single-player experience is a bad one. Knockout Challenge is a mode that sees you battling random CPU opponents until you give up or it becomes too challenging to handle. Even when the latter happens, you can buy your way out of your defeat with coins and continue to play where you left off. After going through that mode twice, I have no intention of ever returning back to it. The matches are all Mega Battles and tiebreakers, with the first 15 matches all being on the most basic courts. The random CPUs are chosen in the worst way possible. At one point, I had three Toads in a row and the energy felt zapped out of my body.
The sole minigame doesn't get a whole lot of mileage either. In Mega Ball Rally, you just keep hitting a ball back and forth and reach the highest score possible while doing so. Once you get the reward from this mode, it is likely that you’ll never return to it. Speaking of rewards, there are 25 and most can be purchased with coins. Never mind that they have required ways of unlocking them, because you can buy your way out of any possible effort. I mean, it is nice that they are saving you from another chore, but that is a little on the nose I must say.
Lastly, there are the online elements of this game. Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash doesn't feature any way for you to play with friends, fans or faraway family alike. There are no online lobbies or communities, and the basic functions of the Nintendo Network aren't even used. What is left is playing singles and doubles against random opponents all across the globe, which is once again not the way I would play. They had the decency to let you play ranked or friendly in three modes (Standard, Simple and Mega), but options remain limited in some crazy ways. You don't have any control as it comes to the length, which is available to you in the local multiplayer. In doubles, you can play together with a local friend or an amiibo of your choosing, but that is the only freedom Ultra Smash is giving you. Not that I consider using an amiibo freedom, because it is just a slightly better CPU partner.
Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash isn't good in the slightest. While the game can be decent in passing, it’s a horrible value when you stop and think about it. There is just one stadium, limited online options and less features than the previous two entries. This is nowhere near the satisfying entry in the series I was hoping for. The elements that they have added result to nothing, which makes the meat on this game's bones extremely thin. Wherever you stand on Mario sports titles, Ultra Smash is not worth your time nor money.