|Release: May 20, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: N/A|
by Sean Engemann
Considering Nintendo's 3DS was released over a year ago, it's shocking that Mario Tennis Open is the first game of the Mario Sports series to grace the new handheld (if you don't include Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, that is).
Developer Camelot is no stranger to Mario sports games, having handled many past tennis and golf titles starring the portly plumber. Mario Tennis Open boils down to exactly what you'd expect—colorful, fast-paced action with Mario and his chums, some minigames for extra fun, and a simple multiplayer. It's enjoyable for a while, but certainly doesn't break any new ground, ultimately delivering an easy lob shot rather than a smash hit.
The vibrant background smacks you right from the title screen, letting you know the Mushroom Kingdom is open for business. All the usual suspects are present—Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Peach, etc. (you know the list)—and in their standard attire (the girls sporting their athletic duds, of course). You can also play as your Mii, whom you can customize with gear with coins earned in minigames.
You are immediately thrust into a tutorial that gives you the basics on proper technique. The learning curve, however, never moves into advanced territory, quickly becoming repetitive no matter the skill level of your opponents.
During a match, the touchscreen turns into color-coded shot panels, with options to perform a simple, flat, topspin, slice, lob, or drop shot, each countering an opponent's previous shot and playing to a specific area of the court. While charging your shot, you can adjust its heading using the Thumb Pad. You can also dive towards out of reach balls with the R trigger, and stop charging with the L trigger. On nearly every shot, a glowing circle called a Chance Area will mark where the ball will land. Matching the specific shot with the Chance Area will create a much more powerful version, which is much harder for the opponent to return. Even if they do manage to make contact, the powerful shot will disorient them for a second. Of course, they also receive the same opportunity, so be prepared whenever your opponent is engulfed in the colored ring.
There's not much need to worry, though, as the computer controlled A.I. is very timid and predictable. With only a couple well-placed power shots, you'll be scoring games, sets, and matches at lightning speed. Each character leans toward a specific style, which is easily exploited. Heavy characters like Wario and Bowser, for example, are strong hitters but move slowly, so returning their serve with a drop shot will grant you points nine times out of ten. If they somehow manage to make contact, a lob to the back of the court will seal the deal.
The handicap is further awarded in your favor with a semi-automated timing and contact system. As long as you're in the general vicinity of where the ball will land (which, considering how condensed the courts are, is pretty much anywhere), pressing a shot button will begin charging for contact and will always strike true. Shooting out of bounds is also exceedingly difficult to do, and only a powered-up flat shot near the net, or a drop shot well behind the baseline, will trigger such an event.
All of these handicaps work with the frenetic pacing, which befits the universe and is endearingly fun, but coddling nonetheless.
The only real computer challenge comes when you unlock the Pro and Ace difficulty levels, which are fiendishly hard. They don't give an inch, and you could be volleying back and forth until your hand cramps up, which usually spells defeat. However, you can only play these difficulties in Exhibition mode, which is by far the dreariest of the bunch. Choose your player, pick your venue (all of which are set around a character's prime location), and choose a length. The courts have varying ball speeds and bounce, which adds a little variety, but the whole mode is basically a glorified practice arena. Tournament Mode isn't much grander, as you move through the playoffs to become the champion, unlocking new tournaments, eight in total.