Mario Tennis Aces (Switch) Review

Camelot have been the kings of the Mario Tennis (and Golf) kingdom for some time, after the pure disappointment that Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash on the Wii U was, everyone has been waiting for them to give Tennis another real shot. Well we got it, and it might not be what we thought we wanted, but it’s still good just the same.

For those unaware, the last time Camelot did a story mode in a Tennis game is was in 2005’s Mario Tennis Power Tour for the Gameboy Advance. With the Switch being both a handheld and home console, it’s finally time that we see a story with a tennis on a console. It’s been a while coming. Before you get too carried away, you should know that the story mode isn’t a tale of an up and coming junior Tennis player, but instead a wacky tale of Mario and his mates. There’s the same RPG elements you would expect from a Camelot sports game like leveling up and different skills, rackets, and abilities, but it never gets too advanced and really you just need to use the last racket you collect as you move forward through the story.

The game’s story mode is set on an island, Mario just having won the Tennis championship on it is “rewarded” by Wario and Waluigi with the legendary racket, which they’ve “stolen” from the Temple of Bask. Unfortunately, Luigi grabs the racket and unleashes its power, and he, along with Wario and Waluigi, disappear, and it’s up to Mario to figure out what happened. Mario then learns of the five power stones that power the racket, and if he can’t find them before Wario and Waluigi then peace will never come.  Mario and Toad set across the island, taking on other characters from the Mushroom Kingdom in games of tennis, various mini-games, and boss battles. Yes, it’s a story mode, but it’s a far cry from what was in the Game Boy games; at least it doesn’t take itself seriously at any point.

The story mode does a good job of introducing you to the mechanics of the game, first the absolute basics and then showing off the new features like Zone Shots, Zone Speed, and Special Shots. As you move through the game’s world you’ll be playing standard games of tennis, squaring off in boss battles and there are side-missions (some of which aren’t optional) like keeping a rally going and hitting targets. The bosses, for the most part, are fairly easy once you get their pattern down; despite all looking different they all play out mostly the same way and you should be able to deal with them fairly easily. The rally battles and target shots can range from super easy to “I want to throw my Switch across the room.

Zone Shots, Zone Speed are brand new additions to the Mario Tennis formula. Zone Shot basically allows you to slow down time, you’ll enter a first-person mode and use (optionally) the gyro to move a reticule around and choose where you want your shot to go. You won’t have forever, depending on how much charge you have saved up you’ll either have a couple of seconds or just a fraction of one. Not every shot can be returned in this manner, but you’ll know when you can because there’s a glowing star where the ball is going to land.

Zone Speed also tampers with time and allows you to move at full speed while the ball and other players slow down. This means you’ll be able to reach a return shot that you would have had no chance of getting before.

You’ll want the time slowed down too so you can return both Zone Shots and Special Shots when you play whether it be in single player or multiplayer your racket has a health bar. Fail to return these shots at the right time (get in the middle of the purple glow) and you’ll lose health and eventually break your racket. Your racket can also break instantly if you can’t return a Special Shot, these shots are when your charge bar is completely filled up, they’re not unblockable but you won’t want to stuff it up as it can mean an instant knock out both in single player and online.

The new shot of the day is the Trick Shot. Flick the right stick in any direction to slide, spin or jump over to a faraway ball, they’re not just called Trick because you do a fancy move, they’re hard to pull off be the reward is a big boost to your energy bar. If it sounds like a lot to take in, it is. You’ll learn the hard way, “Why do I keep failing?” Because you’re not doing any one of these advanced shots, you’ll need to be able to block, do trick shots and do zone shots of your own.

The single-player mode doesn’t take too long to complete, you should be able to complete it in a day if you’re dedicated. There’s just one problem with it — it’s cheap. Not the presentation, but about halfway through the story, the game’s difficulty spikes. Tennis matches, rallies, and target mini-games become stupid hard to complete, the AI goes from being hard to almost cheating. Eventually, it boils down to just using special moves and zone shots to get past them, and goes from an organic tennis game to just beating a one-sided pattern. Hopefully, this doesn’t end up happening with human players online, because it’s just not fun — the game turns into a lottery rather than a fair fight.

Outside of the single player, multiplayer is where you’re going to spend the majority of your time. You’ve got tournament modes both online and offline, free-play, and Swing Mode where the motion control portion of the game resides.

Tournaments work online the same as the demo did, you work your way through a bracket to try and win the final. Once you win for the month you’ll unlock a new character as well, we’ve got no idea how long this will run for but it’s a good reason to try and win. There’s another reason as well, leaderboards. You can check both standard and simple class leaderboards, see where you rank in the world and against your friends. The leaderboard is ordered by your win-loss ratio and how many tournaments overall you’ve won (and a score). Locally there are single player tournaments which work much like the cup system in Mario Kart, it’s just a shame you can’t make a local tournament with friends and then have the bracket system sort you out.

Free Play is the standard ‘multiplayer’ modes, both for locally and online. You can play locally on one machine with up to four players (doubles and singles) or connect two consoles together over local wireless. One or two people can also jump in online and take on friends or the rest of the world. When the day one patch dropped we played a few different games with people locally in Australia and some international and most of the time the connection was fine, even when the connection meter was on red. Local games were better, but playing with someone in the UK wasn’t an issue either.

All of the multiplayer modes have this one weird thing about them, you can’t pick what court you want to play on. You can put either “All”, “Stadium” or custom. ‘All’ has all the variations of the stadium and the ones you have unlocked in the single player thus far. Custom is weird, it allows you to turn off specific stadiums and whether or not they have hazards or not. It’s just a really weird way to do it, and allowing a court to be picked in the flow of starting a game seems like it would make more sense. You can only play either standard or simple rules, standard is Zone Shots, Zone Speed and all the trick moves on, simple is just ‘tennis’ without any gimmicks. You also can’t pick how many sets you can play aside from a tiebreaker setup or two games in one set, this despite the game being able to cater for more sets in single player.

Swing Mode is also interesting because despite being “just the motion control” part of the game there’s actually a couple of different ways to play tennis included. There’s regular tennis with motion, a version with a bigger tennis ball and rally competitions – none of which are available with normal controls, it just seems like a missed opportunity. There’s also been some confusion about exactly what swing mode is, because it’s not like Wii Sports because you still have to control your character with the one Joy-Con. The motions may be similar, but it’s a little bit more mentally exerting.

Mario Tennis Aces has brought Mario sports titles back up to where they belong. The single player isn’t the second coming of the RPG modes from the Game Boy titles like we had hoped but that’s not the full story here. Aces has a complex and fun Tennis system with mechanics more like a fighting game than a sport one. There’s tons of content here and more than enough to keep you going for months. Smashing.

Rating: 4/5

The Good

- Runs and looks great both in handheld and docked
- Tournament mode provides long life and leaderboards
- About 100x more content that Ultra Smash

The Bad

- Difficulty spikes in single player
- Swing mode could have just been Wii Sports again
- Confusing UI choices

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Mario Tennis Aces has brought Mario sports titles back up to where they belong. The single player isn't the second coming of the RPG modes from the Game Boy titles like we had hoped but that's not the full story here. Aces has a complex and fun Tennis system with mechanics more like a fighting game than a sport one. There's tons of content here and more than enough to keep you going for months. Smashing.

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Daniel Vuckovic
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