Mario finally returns to his tennis prowess of old after a few down years. UPDATED with final score and thoughts on online.
Check at the end for the thoughts on online. The original review posted on June 20 is as it was then before that
The recent history of Mario Tennis has been checkered at best. While a high point might have been reached with the Nintendo 64 or GameCube releases, the subsequent 3DS and Wii U games were both disappointing. Outside of Wii Sports, Nintendo hasn’t put out a great tennis game in a long time. Mario Tennis Aces for the Switch might not ascend to the highs of the series’ older predecessors, but a strong multiplayer experience and a decent single-player one combine with novel new mechanics that make for a strong Mario sports entry.
While past Mario Tennis games have always had some sort of Power Shot or Chance Shot tweak, Aces adds in a much deeper, game-changing twist. Your regular allotment of shot types are all present and easy to use, but a pseudo-fighting game is tacked on top of it. You and your opponent’s rackets can be destroyed by powerful special shots and a game can end non-traditionally when all of a player’s rackets are destroyed. It drastically changes the ebb and flow of matches, as now there are two distinct ways to win.
The single-player content serves as a good introduction to the new mechanics but isn’t all that substantial. Adventure mode is the bulk of it and is very cute but far more limited in scope than I hoped. The ridiculous intro sequence shows a magical racket possessing Luigi, Wario, and Waluigi and the ensuing quest takes Mario around multiple areas to complete a few challenges in each, all culminating in simple but fun boss fights. It all goes by quickly, primarily remaining endearing thanks to its witty writing and generally goofy tone. The fact that winning tennis matches and challenges is the key to solving so much of this world’s problems is funny. This mode might not live up to the old RPG modes of the Game Boy Mario Tennis games, but it’s fun for what it is. Aside from that, the solo content is topped off by a few tournaments.
The later and more difficult portions of the single-player highlights some of my issues with Aces’ new mechanics, though. High-level play seems to hinge on being able to time blocks perfectly. If that timing is hard for you, you’re screwed. Time can be slowed down courtesy of the energy meter to assist, but even with that, proper touch is required to block special shots and if you can’t do it, things get dicey real fast. It’s a shame that so much of the novel tennis/fighting game blend boils down to one specific concept because in less strenuous situations, the variety of play styles is vast. Even with the energy meter, you can still play it straight or focus on executing a variety of moves to move all over the court, slam the ball at enemies, and destroy their rackets.
In local multiplayer, Mario Tennis Aces is a blast. While some of the new ideas are a little hard to pick up, multiplayer has enough options to keep everything customized to your group. You can play with motion controls in Swing Mode or even just turn off all the fancy new stuff and go back to the traditional, simple basics. It’s versatile and amusing. Online in my limited experience so far seems to run fine for the most part. I ran into similar issues as in the pre-release tournament where lag did crop up on occasion. As of writing, the online tournaments are planned to go live right before launch, so because of that, I’ll be holding off making a final critique on the online until that goes live. After some time with the online, this review will be updated. For the most part, online’s variance on my final thoughts will factor heavily into longevity. If online’s great, I’ll be playing Aces for a while, especially if there are frequent tournaments and other challenges. If the lag overwhelms the experience, then Aces will just be a short solo romp with sporadic party game aspirations. The base is solid. Nintendo just needs to deliver with a stable and consistent connection.
Regardless of online’s performance, Mario Tennis Aces is the best entry in the series since the GameCube era. The tried-and-true gameplay has a variety of legitimately intriguing additions and changes even if it stumbles a little as the challenge increases. And while the single-player content is on the lighter side, that’s not necessarily a terrible thing as it’s fun in its brevity. If you’re not interested in playing multiplayer, this could be hard to recommend, but if you’re ready to take to the courts locally or online, Mario Tennis Aces is assuredly an ace. Sorry - I had to.
Updated Online Thoughts
A weekend with Mario Tennis Aces’ online was way more promising than the hit or miss connections of the pre-release demo. While the online did not run flawlessly, I experienced a notable improvement from the troubling issues that arose prior to launch. However, a relative lack of customization and options for online play limits certain parts of it, but a smart tournament idea helps to make it easy to get into.
Your online options are basically a tiebreaker versus match, potentially in a room with friends and then the online tournament. The disappointing part of the versus is that you can’t play sets - only tiebreakers to seven points. You can hop in with a friend on the same system to play doubles online, which is nice, but the fact that it can only be one type of match is limiting.
The tournament is virtually identical to the demo experience. The concept is brilliant, though, as it places you up against an online opponent in the same round as you in the tournament. You can check the connection pre-match, so if it’s not stable or low, you can bail and go up against another opponent. However, as you get deeper in the bracket, the pool you have to go up against lessens. I was saddled with a poor connection in a finals match because only one other player seemed to be looking for a match at the same time. If Aces isn’t populated, finding late-stage tournament matches could be a problem.
Starting in July, monthly tournaments will be the key to unlocking new characters, with Koopa and Blooper for the first two months and an unannounced character in September. As long as the online keeps running well, Mario Tennis Aces will be worth revisiting. I still have my concerns of the new mechanics being a little too focused on the ability to block, but Mario’s grand sports return has more than enough good in it to make up for smaller miscues like that. This is an encouraging return to form for Camelot.