Pikmin 2, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, Metroid Prime 2...apparently Nintendo has a case of sequel-itis this fall. Fortunately, each game takes the fun gameplay of earlier games and enhances it. Mario Power Tennis is no different.
Mario Power Tennis is a solid follow-up to the N64 and GBC hits. At first glance, the game appears to be a graphically upgraded version of the N64 game. While there is a hint of truth to this, the game adds just enough bells and whistles in the form of Power Shots and Gimmick Courts to keep things fresh for veterans of Mario Tennis.
Simple, intuitive controls have been a staple of Mario Tennis games, and Mario Power Tennis is no different. Players use a single press of the A or B button for most shots (A = topspin, B = slice, A+B = smash) while double tapping the A and B buttons allows for more powerful shots, drop shots, and lobs. Add in the R and L buttons when pressing either A or B and you can use the newly added offensive and defensive Power Shots.
With such simple controls, it'd be easy to think that Mario Power Tennis' gameplay was equally simple. Fortunately, that's not the case. The real key to success in the game lies in positioning and timing. The controls are such that just about anyone can hit a few shots but only experienced players who understand the courts and characters will be able to consistently hit good shots. Having said all that, because the fundamental gameplay in Mario Power Tennis hasn't changed much from its predecessors, veterans of the older games will quickly master the latest edition to the series.
The new Power Shots add a little spice but don't really change the formula too much. As a volley progresses, a character's racket will gradually glow. When the racket's glow reaches a certain point, that character will be able to use a Power Shot complete with a customized animation befitting of each character's personality. Offensive Power Shots are essentially smash shots that can temporarily impair anyone who tries to return the shot. Impairments can spin, knock back, or slow down a returner for a few seconds. Defensive Power Shots effectively allow a player to return any single shot without fail. If the ball is 20 ft. away from you and only inches from hitting the ground a second time, all you need is a handy defensive Power Shot and you'll safely return the ball. It probably won't be the most powerful or best placed return but at least the volley continues.
On the surface, the Power Shots may appear to be overpowered but the reality is that they are not. As alluded to before, defensive Power Shots aren't particularly powerful. Defensive Power Shots can also leave you in a very bad position so that your opponent can win the point with the next shot. As for offensive Power Shots, they can easily be countered with a defensive Power Shot and after a little practice, players should be able to use a normal shot on an offensive Power Shot for a well-placed return.
Another major addition offered by Mario Power Tennis is the plethora of Gimmick Courts available. Each locale provides its own unique challenges and charm. For example, Wario's Factory puts the players on conveyor belts that are controlled by hitting arrows located just above the net. Meanwhile, Luigi's Mansion is appropriately littered with ghosts, who in turn litter the court with banana peels. Delphino Plaza, on the other hand, has Piranha Plants that can be triggered to drop slippery sludge on to the courts along with FLUUDs that can spray water to clean up the mess.
Along with each Gimmick Court comes a Special Game, which is really just a mini-game in fancy dressing. As you would expect, each Special Game is tailored to reflect the court's personality so that on Delphino Plaza you play Tic-Tac Glow, which is sort of like Tic-Tac-Toe except on a tennis court and with shine sprites. In Bowser Castle, you play Mecha-Bowser Mayhem, in which you return Bob-ombs and Bullet Bills in an effort to destroy a mechanical Bowser. On the whole, the Special Games serve as a nice distraction, but the meat of the game still lies in the basic game of tennis.
And if the basic game of tennis is the meat of the gameplay, multiplayer tennis is its fillet mignon. Of course, anyone who's played the game's previous incarnations will not be surprised. Since the core gameplay is intact, the multiplayer game has come back in full force. If you've got three other friends around, Mario Power Tennis' plethora of courts, characters, and gimmick games will lead to countless hours of fun. And, with its easy to learn controls, Mario Power Tennis is an excellent choice when playing with casual gamers.
As one would expect from a Nintendo sequel, Mario Power Tennis keeps the fun gameplay mechanics of its predecessors while adding a few tweaks and additions here and there to avoid being a complete rehash. The changes aren't revolutionary by any means, but the small refinements and new gameplay modes make the sequel worth a look from seasoned fans of Mario Tennis. For those who missed out on the N64 version, now is your chance to play one of the better multiplayer games around.