Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Rank Up! - Mario Tennis

Wimbledon is in full swing, and the competition, much like the weather in Central City, is certainly heating up. I feel like it is the perfect time for a tennis-themed installment of Rank Up! This time we will be chronicling the exploits of Mario and his Mushroom Kingdom cohorts with the Mario Tennis series. However, I can't begin to list the franchise's pfferings from least greatest to greatest without first mentioning the games I'll be ranking:

Mario's Tennis (VB)
Mario Tennis (N64)
Mario Tennis (GBC)
Mario Power Tennis (GCN)
Mario Tennis: Power Tour (GBA)
Mario Tennis Open (3DS)

Mario is quite the plumber. Perhaps that's a false statement because between saving the princess from the clutches of Bowser, battling Donkey Kong, driving go-karts and bikes, having multiple rounds of golf, refereeing boxing matches, and taking to the baseball diamond he really doesn't have much time for his actual profession. Yet another hobby that Mario planned to dominate was tennis, and he wasn't alone. The whole Mushroom Kingdom crew joined him. The Mario Tennis series is meant to be casual arcade tennis fun, and some might argue that the gameplay is unrealistic. Well, if you're looking for something closer to the sport (I wouldn't go to a series where princesses and babies take the same court), Virtua Tennis, Grand Slam Tennis or Top Spin meets your criteria. That said, my favorite tennis titles are no doubt those which star the plump plumber.

6) Mario's Tennis (VB)

Mario's first steps onto a tennis court brought him onto the ill-fated Virtual Boy. Six other characters join Mario in his original tennis romp including Peach and Donkey Kong Jr. Mario's Tennis was one of the premier Virtual Boy titles to actually be improved by the 3D effect (and one of the only notable VB games, for that matter). It was easy peasy to distinguish how far away and how close the ball was to your character. The challenge of the game, even with the CPU on Easy, made for some massively heated matches. However, the blandness of the environments as well as the lack of unlockable or even in-game content made Mario's Tennis a game that was incredibly short lived to be played in even shorter play sessions (and the headache-inducing red and black color palette will make glad you did).

5) Mario Tennis: Power Tour (GBA)

Like the Game Boy Color installment before it, Mario Tennis: Power Tour comes with a full story mode which includes a sampling of RPG touches such as leveling up characters and stats. The 2D models, backgrounds, courts, and effects are pretty impressive for the Game Boy Advance, and are an obvious step up from the Game Boy Color version. However, the game could be called Run-of-the-Mill Tennis Characters Advance because the general sampling of nondescript human characters you play as take up most of your time; Mario and the handful of other Mushroom Kingdom characters are a side thought. Add in a ho-hum story and the hassle of multiplayer that is next to impossible to find someone with a GBA and a copy of the game, and you have a terrific game but one that is unremarkable and flawed all the same.

4) Mario Tennis Open (3DS)

Before Mario Tennis Open, the handheld installments of Mario Tennis featured light RPG elements. The newest game in the franchise forgoes these elements to present a console-like version of the game. The addition of Chance Shots opened up unique strategies. Hit a shot incorrectly, and you opened yourself up for your opponent(s) to take advantage of your mistake. One complaint of Open is the lack of content. Compared to other Mario Tennis titles, this is true, but I still managed to eek out 19+ hours of time with the game through playing through all of the singles and doubles tournaments, unlocking costumes for my Mii character, playing the four creative mini-games, and participating in online matches-- the latter of which could be improved. Miis being overpowered compared to their Mushroom Kingdom counterparts is a problem that I would I have liked to have seen touched upon, but seeing as I don't care about "metagames" in Nintendo titles, this didn't really affect me much.

3) Mario Power Tennis (GCN)

Prior Mario Tennis games were closer to reality than mirroring the cartoon influences of the Mario franchise. That changed with Mario Power Tennis. The game introduced power shots that could be used offensively or defensively to change the scope of a match with one swing as well as courts that weren't just vanilla flavored like the games before it-- these had Klaptraps, Luigi's Mansion ghouls and ghosts, shifting and sliding panels, tilting and tumbling courts, and piranha plants spewing mud all over the surface of the playing field. There were also eight or so mini-games that tested players' skills of tennis such as sending back a giant blopper's various volleys, painting a character portrait using different colored tennis balls, and sending shots into a mechanical Bowser bot. The game would be ported to the Wii with all-new controls, but the superior version remains the GameCube original and anyone who likes Mario and/or tennis games would be well "served" to pick this one up.

2) Mario Tennis (GBC)

A "smash" hit, Mario Tennis for the Game Boy Color acquainted the world with the mix of tennis gameplay with RPG elements. Players could take their human character through the ranks of the tennis world in the game's captivating story mode with the desire to make it to the top. Along the way players earned experience points through participating in matches which would add up to net them with levels, improving their all-around stats. From a zero to a tennis pro within the span of the story, your character could out-smash, out-hit, out-return, and outrun even the mightiest of adversaries, including a certain heroic plumber. The presentation of Mario Tennis GBC is some of the best the underpowered portable has ever seen. Blend all of the exciting elements of this game together, and you have one of the most competent handheld tennis titles of all time.

1) Mario Tennis (N64)

Not only my favorite Mario Tennis title but one of my favorite tennis games period, Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64 began the immense popularity of the combination of Mario and the sport. The bounty of unlockables from characters like Donkey Kong Jr. and Shy Guy to colorful courts towering above the heavens or set deep within a jungle make for a game that you will be playing for a long time. And why not considering how addicting the gameplay is. It's so simple yet so rewarding. Hitting smashes past your opponent, unleashing a killer serve, or blasting your rival in the face with the ball all make for enjoyable and entertaining experiences. The game also introduced the character of Waluigi as well as long-standing traditions to the franchise like Ring Shot and Item Battle to change things up from the standard tennis fun. I can't exclaim enough my "love" for this extraordinary tennis game. Few can even match the quality represented here. Mario and friends no doubt serve up an ace with this Nintendo 64 classic.


You are quite possibly exhausted from reading all of the tennis-related puns I conjured up throughout this edition of Rank Up. That's okay. It's over now. You can rest and relax until tomorrow where another exclusive SuperPhillip Central story will be posted. But before then, chime in on what your favorite Mario Tennis titles or even other most adored tennis titles are in the comments section.

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