Sunday, June 24, 2018

Mario Tennis Open (3DS) Review Redux

Mario Tennis Aces released on the 22nd, and rest assured, you can be certain that SuperPhillip Central will cover that game with an in-depth review. In the meantime, let's take out the Review Redux machine and churn out another second take on a past game I reviewed. This time around, I'll be looking at Mario Tennis Open for the Nintendo 3DS. Fitting, no? Not just because of Mario Tennis Aces, but also with Wimbledon coming up.

Mario just got served. ...But that's a good thing.


In my feverish anticipation for Mario Tennis Aces for the Nintendo Switch (since released this past Friday), I wanted to return to a previous Mario Tennis game that I had easy access to. Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64 was a no-go since the system is in storage. The GameCube's Mario Tennis also suffered the same fate. I wasn't too interested in the more RPG aspects of the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance entries in the series, and Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash on the Wii U? Hahaha--no.

Thus, the answer was obvious. Back when it originally released, Mario Tennis Open drew great ire from fans and critics alike. Sure, it wasn't roasted to tennis hell, but it didn't unleash a winning serve to most players. The reason for this was the Chance Shot gameplay system. As rivals rally the tennis ball across the court, occasionally colored circles appear where the ball is set to land. By pressing the appropriate button to let loose the appropriate shot type, the power and intensity of the shot would be amplified considerably. A red circle means to hit a shot with topspin for a powerful strike that can send your opponent stumbling backward. A blue circle means to hit a slice that can curve so much that it seriously defies the laws of physics. Purple is a strong flat shot, yellow is a lob, and white is a drop shot.

For instance, a white aura around the tennis ball indicates a Drop Shot
that sticks close to the front of the opponent's side of the court is incoming.
Now, while this can be considered a game of Simon Says--running from side to side of the court and rallying shots according to the color of each circle--you really won't get anywhere against tough, clever opponents, even the ultimate difficulty of the AI, Ace. There is a whole strategy and psychology to Mario Tennis Open. Do you forgo charging up a lob to perform a drop shot, or do you start to charge for a lob, charging up the yellow circle in the process, and hit a flat shot at the last second to completely throw off your opponent? There's more to Mario Tennis Open than a simple game of Simon Says. While that will work on beginners, it's not recommended against ace players.

Mario Tennis Open features a satisfying amount of single player modes, which offer a fair bit of variety to them. As with most Mario Tennis games, the main mode is Tournament Mode. This pits you against a series of three matches in a row in various tournaments in order to win trophies. The tournaments increase in difficulty (as well as how many sets you must win) as you go along, and there are both Singles and Doubles tournaments to participate in. Winning the fourth tournament with a given character unlocks their Star version, a more improved iteration of that character, complete with better stats. Thankfully, you need not play all four tournaments continuously to unlock a Star character. Merely unlocking the fourth through normal play will allow you to start from it, and once you win the championship, the character you're using will obtain their Star version. This is great, as otherwise there would be a ton of grinding to be done through the laughably easy starting tournaments against mind-numbing opponents.

Here's Luigi's ball in your eye! Wait. That came out wrong.
That said, grinding is there to be had, if you so desire. After each match you play offline, a new piece of gear becomes available for purchase in the Clubhouse shop. This gear equips to your Mii with a varied and wide selection of available goodies to randomly unlock after each match and purchase. These come in the form of tennis rackets, outfits, wristbands, and shoes. Each of the dozens of purchasable gear affect your Mii in various ways, altering shot speed, power, angles, character movement, and more.

Outfit your Mii and then take your custom avatar to the court.
I mentioned some grinding to be done. Well, this is where it comes in. In order to purchase gear from the Clubhouse shop, you need coins. Baffling enough, you can only coins through playing the four mini-games available in Mario Tennis Open, as well as StreetPass matches. The former features multiple level challenges ranging from rallying a ball through rings for points, to a really novel and cool mini-game where you hit a ball off a wall that displays a side-scrolling level a la the original Super Mario Bros. Your ball can hit blocks, enemies, items, coins, pipes and so forth to earn points and additional time to clear the level. It's by far my favorite mini-game ever seen in a Mario Tennis game. Meanwhile, the StreetPass battles earn you more coins as you get consecutive victories against AI-controlled Miis you've met through StreetPass. Considering the 3DS is very much winding down, it can be difficult to find another local player who has a 3DS and this game in their StreetPass log to exchange Miis with. Why one doesn't earn coins from winning regular matches in Exhibition, Tournament, or Online is just silly to me and a questionable design decision.

Ring Shot and Super Mario Tennis are half of the available mini-games in Mario Tennis Open.
Since I just mentioned it, online multiplayer is available in Mario Tennis Open, and it's fairly limited in what you can do. It's simple tie-breaker style matches against friends or random players. With the latter, winning or losing boosts or lowers your ranking. Winning also bestows you with a Victory Medal, which has no other uses than bragging rights and a way to unlock up to three Mario series-themed Mii costumes. Playing online can be quite vexing with a now-limited field of players available, meaning waiting for a match can take a while. Furthermore, if you aren't using your Mii or a Star character, you will pretty much be handing tougher opponents the match. Personally, I would have liked to see separate matchmaking for Mii and traditional Mario characters. Of course, the bare minimum was all that Nintendo and Camelot concerned themselves with.

Ooh! That shot is ice. Er... I meant "nice"! ...I'll see myself out now.
I talked about Mii costumes, and these are things that kept me coming back to Mario Tennis Open--well, that is, unlocking them. By completing in-game achievements like winning tournaments, earning a specific amount of Victory Medals, beating an Ace difficulty AI opponent, and so forth, you earn full costumes based on Mario characters and enemies alike. There are over 20 to unlock, and some of these take serious skill and/or patience to gain access to. Aside from Mii costumes, there are four unlockable character to reveal and play as--all unlocked by playing and beating the third level of each of the mini-games in Mario Tennis Open.

Mario Tennis Open is a better game than I gave it credit for when I originally reviewed it, and even then, I was pretty satisfied with Camelot's Nintendo 3DS effort. I think the court variety--from participating in an exciting rally atop a giant toadstool to a rumble in the jungle--is one of the Mario Tennis series's best, and the character roster is quite good, too. Perhaps offering an optional simple mode without Chance Shots would have made Mario Tennis Open a more palatable entry in the series for many, but as is, Mario's 3DS round of tennis serves up a stellar deal of fun.

[SPC Says: B]

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