Saturday, June 30, 2018

Mario Tennis Aces (NSW) Review

We end the month of June with a review of a tennis game that launched about a week ago. It's Mario Tennis Aces. Does it deliver a stunning serve, or does it hit a double fault? Let's find out.. quickly, as the review tagline sort of gives the answer away.

 Game, Set, Suck

I had great hype for Mario Tennis Aces, as Nintendo was showing a lot of promising features for the game. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that the online tournament and what little of the Adventure Mode that they showed was actually the limits of what content was available in Aces. Nintendo has decided once again to give a drip feed approach to its game, slowly releasing content to a game that isn't fit to be full price. That said, that's not even the worst of the problems Mario Tennis Aces has. What we ultimately end up with in Mario Tennis Aces is a clusterf--k on the court.

Let's get this out of the way immediately--Mario Tennis Aces is a flawed, unbalanced, nearly broken game. Camelot didn't even try to give players an inkling of balance to be found between characters. This is particularly noticeable when the majority of players use one of the following: Bowser Jr., Boo, Chain Chomp, or Waluigi. Defensive types are pretty much the best in the game due to their ability to cover the court so effortlessly.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Let's talk tennis. Mario Tennis Aces starts off with a solid enough base, and you can tell that Camelot really tried to freshen up an age old sport like tennis by adding enough new concepts to make it more interesting. In some ways, they have succeeded. As you perform particular moves on the court, whether they be charged shots, trick shots, or regular rallying, you build energy in your gauge. As the gauge increases, you're able to utilize specific techniques with a press of the shoulder buttons, such as Zone Shots and Zone Speed.

You can perform one of four different types of shots in Mario Tennis Aces. This particular one with a white glow is a quick falling Drop Shot that falls near the front of the court.
Zone Shot opportunities open up when the gauge is at least 1/3 full (at least in yellow) and a star shape appears on the court. Simply run up to that spot, press the R button, and then you'll enter a first-person view where you can aim at any point on your opponent's side of the court. Careful, though, as you can accidentally hit the ball out of bounds, which will not only give your opponent the point, but it will also be a waste of your valuable Zone energy. Meanwhile, whereas Zone Shot is an offensive maneuver, Zone Speed is a defensive one, offering the ability to slow down time to reach balls out of your range more easily. It's also pretty much mandatory for blocking Zone Shots and Super Shots without getting your tennis racket damaged or even broken.

Mario lets loose a Zone Shot, while Wario does his very best to block it
with the right timing in order to not have his racket take damage.
Yes, there's some resource management to be found in Mario Tennis Aces, and this is where some strategy comes in. It's all about keeping an eye on your and your opponent's gauge and managing it properly. Sure, you can spam Zone Speed to reach out-of-the-way shots, but this will consume your gauge, making it so you might not have enough energy to slow down time and block your opponent's Zone Shot. You have a limited number of rackets available to you as well in matches. Without the proper timing during an attempt to block a Zone Shot, your racket will take some damage. Three hits and it's broken--unless it's up against a mistimed block of your opponent's Super Shot (performed by pressing L when one's gauge is completely full), then it breaks immediately. If you are without any rackets left in the middle of the match, you automatically forfeit.

What makes Mario Tennis Aces feel completely broken is a mechanic called the Trick Shot. With a flick of the right analog stick, you can perform a quick juke that sends your character moving towards the ball, with the type of shot that they would otherwise have no chance of returning. Now, you need proper timing and you need to flick the stick in the correct direction. The only problem with this is that it's easily abused. In theory, flicking the stick to perform a Trick Shot too early or too late will result in losing gauge energy. However, the amount of energy that is restored on a successful Trick Shot is so substantial that you'll see players online spam the move, intentionally being away from the ball so they can unleash a Trick Shot, gain easy energy, and then spam Zone Shots and Super Shots.

The mechanic is smart in theory, but it's totally broken in actual practice, at least as it is now. When playing against Defensive characters like Bowser Jr. and Waluigi who already can reach pretty much any ball, it becomes next to impossible to get any ball passed them due to every character's ability to spam Trick Shots. A simple solution would be to lower the amount of energy received from a successful Trick Shot, or better yet, make the window much less generous, but then again, seeing all the other design decisions in Mario Tennis Aces, it seems Nintendo and Camelot weren't interested in making a balanced game of tennis.

The battle of the obnoxious and unbalanced Defense players, Waluigi and Bowser Jr.!
There is a Simple tennis mode, which is your bog standard game of tennis with none of the superfluous and unbalanced rules of Mario Tennis Aces' main form of the sport. In addition to this, a Wii Sports Tennis-style Swing Mode is also supported, using the JoyCon controller's motion control to play tennis casually against the AI or with friends and family. Just don't presume that you can play online with Swing Mode, as for some baffling reason, you can't.

That isn't all with Camelot's baffling decisions with Mario Tennis Aces either. In an immensely stupid and limiting decision, the only types of matches you can actually play online against friends and strangers, as well as offline against friends and the AI, are one-set matches or tiebreakers. Forget pulling off an amazing comeback by being down two sets and coming back to win the next three to win the match, and forget battles of endurance. Apparently, Nintendo knows what you want to play better than you do. The absence of an option to play more than one set, even offline, is just shocking in its stupidity. Furthermore, when choosing a court to play on, you don't actually select a court. Instead, you're forced to select the courts you DON'T want to play on. I mean, why be smart and just let a player choose the exact court they'd like, instead forcing them to uncheck all of the courts except the one they wish to play? Egad! The intelligence of Nintendo and Camelot is on full display here.

In addition to traditional Singles play, Doubles play is also an option.
Just don't expect to be able to play more than a one set match.
What's even more frustrating is that Adventure Mode comes complete with matches against the AI that last longer than just one set. The ability to play more than one set is right in the game, so why can't players do that outside of Adventure Mode!?

Speaking of Adventure Mode, any perceived notion that you're getting a meaty single player experience here can be smashed out of bounds like a botched Zone Shot. This isn't your RPG-centric story mode as seen in Mario Tennis for the Game Boy Color or Game Boy Advance. Instead, it's a series of challenges that span a New Super Mario Bros. U-style world map, where you play as Mario (and only Mario) who searches for five elusive Infinity Stones--er, Power Stones. These stones are the necessary components in putting a halt to the master plan of an evil tennis racket that has possessed poor Luigi and, to a lesser extent, poor Wario and Waluigi as well. There are standard tennis matches, mini-games (which is also confusing why these don't unlock for free play outside of Adventure Mode to add SOME kind of extra content to Aces), and engaging boss battles to partake in. One such challenge has you learning how to perform Zone Shots by aiming at snowball-throwing Shy Guys around and aboard a docked train.

Mario's about to send some snow into your eyes, Shy Guys!
These challenges are indeed fun, but Adventure Mode is over so quick that there's not much substance to be found here. Sure, there's the ability to level up Mario after every match and new rackets to unlock, but these are only good for Adventure Mode. The only main reason to play through Adventure Mode--other than enjoying its limited duration, of course--is to unlock its courts through Free Play.

Outside of the brief Adventure Mode, there isn't much left for single player gamers to enjoy in Mario Tennis Aces. There are tournaments to play against the AI, but these don't unlock anything. There aren't even trophy presentations with your characters celebrating their win. It just seems like this game was built on an obscenely low budget, yet this is supposed to be one of Nintendo's big summer games?

Many courts have hazards to them. This particular court has a mast in the center
of the net that can send the ball flying in unpredictable ways.
As stated, there are the monthly online tournaments for both standard and simple tennis modes, but the lack of balance online will just turn into great annoyance for most players. When you have to decline matches with the fifth Bowser Jr. you come across in a row--a severely broken character--then you know there's something seriously wrong with the balance of the game. As it stands, the only real reason to do tournaments is to unlock a new character a month early in the game (a character that was already on the damn cartridge in the first place), or you're a glutton for punishment. It can be both as well.

Whereas the court, Inferno Isle, houses Mechakoopas that wander around and explode after
a while. Not really conducive to normal tennis, but all court hazards can be turned off, fortunately.
Lag was a huge problem in the online demo that was available early this month before Aces launched, but now it's a much rarer occurrence, thankfully. There are still occasional matches that are borderline unplayable with how bad the lag is, however. Fortunately, if you match up with a player and your connection to them is poor, the match will be automatically declined, which is a smart inclusion to a game with little smart design decisions.

Mario Tennis Aces is a content-lite, unbalanced, and joke of a full priced tennis game. Somehow even with having a foundation to work off of with the Wii U's Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, Nintendo and Camelot have released a game that has just barely more content than that sham of a tennis title. The full $60 price tag for Mario Tennis Aces is just salt in the wound and an insult in every sense of the word. If and when Nintendo and Camelot add more features and modes to Mario Tennis Aces, like Nintendo has done with their insulting drip feeding of content in also barren-at-launch games like Splatoon and ARMS, then and only then might Mario Tennis Aces be worth its asking price. As of now, the price gets no "love" from me, and the actual game is hardly any better.

[SPC Says: D+]

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