Becoming a Tennis Ace (Mario Tennis Aces First Impressions)

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Since the days of the Nintendo 64, the Mario sports titles have been some of my favorite games. I have a lot of fond memories of playing Mario Golf and Mario Tennis with my family, and Mario Super Sluggers on the Wii is the best baseball game I have ever played. I’m not really into sports in general, but that doesn’t apply when it comes to Mario.

The next entry in the Mario Tennis series, Mario Tennis Aces, is set to launch at the end of June. And to celebrate, Nintendo decided to do a special online demo event, similar to what the did with ARMS and Splatoon 2. The Mario Tennis Aces: Online Tournament Demo (catchy name, right?) gave all the eager fans a chance to play the game together before the release date. And I decided I’d like to talk a bit about it!

Like with my ARMS first impression, this will be divided into a few categories, which will then be divided further into a list of pros and cons. So let’s get started!

  • Graphics and Music

Pro: I love the way this game looks. It’s super pretty and colorful, just like you would expect a Mario game to be! And the new tennis outfits that have been given to some of the characters look super good. After all, playing sports in a plumbers cap and overalls never really did make much sense.

Pro: The music is also really great. There are only so many tracks available in the demo, but they’re all wonderfully put together. I can’t think of a track I haven’t liked!

Con: I don’t have too many negative things to say about this game in regards to its graphics and music. Then again, I’m generally pretty easy to please when it comes to this sort of thing.

I guess one thing I could mention is that while the likes of Mario and Peach now all have appropriate tennis garb, some of the characters still have their normal clothes (or lack of clothes). Toad and Yoshi almost look out of place with their regular designs, and I feel like something could have been done to make them look more in line with the sport. Or would giving Bowser a tennis visor look too silly?

  • Gameplay and Control

Pro: There’s a lot that’s been done to give Mario Tennis Aces a unique feel over its predecessors. Most of the time, the gameplay of a Mario Tennis title would feel basic. You move around and use two buttons to smack a tennis ball back and forth until someone misses, and that’s it. But this time around, the four face buttons on your Nintendo controller are all responsible for using different kinds of swings, giving you more variety and strategy when it comes to how you play your game of tennis.

I’m not sure how this compares to the last couple Mario Tennis titles (Mario Tennis Open for the 3DS and Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash for the Wii U), since I haven’t had a chance to play them. But as far as this game is concerned, it’s a neat and welcome change to otherwise standard gameplay.

Pro: The strategy of your Tennis game goes much deeper than your controller’s face buttons, however. All characters are now equipped with a shiny new energy gauge and all sorts of fancy new skills! These skills are called Zone Shots, Zone Speed, Trick Shots, and Special Shots.

The R Button (or ZR Button) allows you to use your energy gauge to perform Zone Shots and Zone Speed. Zone Shots are performed while standing inside a Star Icon on the floor of the tennis court (which basically indicates where the tennis ball is going to land). Using a Zone Shot pauses time and brings you into a first-person view, allowing you to aim your shot in any direction you want and launch it off at high velocity, almost guaranteeing a point being scored (or losing a point, since it’s pretty easy to send the ball sailing out of bounds as well). Holding down the R Button will let you use Zone Speed, which slows down time and lets you move to a spot where you can precisely counter your opponents moves, including their Zone Shots. Countering Zone Shots comes with a risk however, which we’ll talk about in a moment.

Using the Right Analog Stick (Or double-tapping the X button while holding the Left Stick in a direction) let’s you perform a Trick Shot. Trick Shots let your character move rapidly in the direction you point them, allowing you to catch balls that are sailing by you or are on the other side of the court. Performing a perfect Trick Shot is also a good way to build up your Energy Gauge, but messing up your shot could actually cost you Energy instead.

Lastly, Special Shots are performed by pressing the L Button (Or ZL Button) while your Energy Gauge is full. They are, more or less, a guaranteed Zone Shot that can be performed at any time, as long as the ball is in your side of the court. They also come complete with super fancy animations that are unique to every character, and are just pretty awesome to look at in general.

One final thing to not about Zone Shots and Special Shots is that they can be used to break your opponents racket. Tennis rackets have a 3-Point health bar, and smashing the Tennis Ball right at your opponent and forcing them to counter your shot can drain one of those hit points (or all of them, in the case of a Special Shot). Once their supply of rackets is gone, they can no longer play and you get an automatic victory. But of course, with proper timing, a Zone Shot or a Special Shot can be blocked, and they can be immediately countered with another Special Shot. If your shot is blocked, it basically renders your attempt to break your opponents racket null and void. And your racket is just as easily breakable, so learning the timing for blocking these shots is critical! Using Zone Speed to slow things down helps a lot when it comes to blocking.

Con: With as long as I rambled on about about the new mechanics just now, you can tell there is a lot to learn when it comes to mastering your tennis game this time around. There was always something beneficial and satisfying about the simplicity of the previous Mario Tennis games. While playing the demo, there were moments where I had a difficult time trying to break that mindset of the simple gameplay I was used to, forgetting I had so much more to work with. So I can see where changing up the gameplay as much as it has been could be an issue for old AND new players.

Though at the very least, the devolpers thought of this outcome. You can also play the game with simple rules as well, making it more like the original Mario Tennis style. I’m not sure if simple rules can be applied to all of the full releases content, but having the option for some basic tennis fun is welcome.

  • Online Play

Pro: Of course, the entire point of an online tournament is to play online with people. I had never played an online-compatible Mario Tennis beforehand, so playing the game with people from around the world was a new experience for me.

The tournament feature itself was well thought out. Rather than being placed into a tournament bracket and being forced to play games until you lost one, you were free to play and stop playing whenever you felt like it. Your tournament progress would be saved until the next time you played, where you would be randomly matched up with another player who was at the same point in the tournament as you were. For example, if you were in a semi-finals match, your opponent would also be at the same spot in their tournament, so you were both on even ground. I liked that a lot, as it didn’t tie you down to dedicating your time towards a long gameplay session. I’m not sure if this is how it will work in the full release as well, but it would be nice if they carried this over to the main game.

Con: Unfortunately, that’s where the nice things I have to say about the online play have to stop. I’m usually not super critical if a game has poor online, since I don’t play games online a lot. I much prefer single-player games and local multiplayer. But holy crap, the online play in Tennis Aces is garbage.

Of all the matches I attempted to play, I didn’t end up playing many because of how bad the connections to my opponents were. I did not get a single game in where the lag wasn’t unbearable. I’m talking a full second of time between you pressing a button and your character actually performing the action. There was constant stuttering, and I was essentially unable to properly play because I couldn’t control my character right. It was BAD. Where the ARMS demo provided me with some of the best online play I’ve ever experienced in a Nintendo game, the Mario Tennis Aces Online Tournament was by far the worst.

Granted, I have gone on record before saying that I have terrible internet (a problem that should hopefully be fixed in the upcoming months). My connection problems could have completely been my fault. But I have NEVER had such a consistently awful time trying to play a game online before. I can play Smash Bros and Mario Kart with little to no issue, and I play Team Fortress 2 quite regularly with minimal problems. Also, It could have also just been an issue with the Demo in general. Maybe the full game won’t be quite as bad, and maybe things will improve once Nintendo Switch Online launches later in the year. But overall, I’m probably going to be avoiding playing this game online.

  • Conclusion

Overall, Mario Tennis Aces feels like a natural evolution of the the series’ core gameplay and the Power Shots in Mario Power Tennis. But rather than just smacking a ball back and forth, or mashing a button to perform an Offensive and Defensive Power Shot, there’s a lot of strategy that goes into building a managing your energy gauge and using it to change the course of the game. Will you want to use your Zone Shots or Zone Speed as much as possible? Will you risk using your energy to try and master the timing of Trick Shots? Or will you conserve your energy and save up for a guaranteed Special Shot? And will your strategy revolve around playing the game like normal and scoring as many points as possible, or will you try to shake your opponent up by forcing their hand and attempting to break their racket? The amount of options available to the player is staggering when compared to previous Mario Tennis games, and I loved every second of learning these new mechanics. It’s truly an evolution of the series!

True, the actual online component of the Online Tournament was pretty terrible. But overall, I’m really happy with the way Mario Tennis Aces has turned out, and I’m definitely going to pick up the game once its released! Maybe to fill in the time, I could even play some of the other Mario Tennis games I’ve missed out on as well. I do love me some Mario Tennis, after all!

The quality and updates that have gone into Tennis Aces also has be really hopeful for what else could come from the Mario Sports titles. Could we perhaps get a new Mario Golf of Mario Baseball in the same kind of vein? I’m really excited thinking about the future for the series, and I really hope everyone else is too!

But for now, I think I’ve gone on long enough. What did everyone else think of the demo? Do you like the gameplay changes that have been put in place? And did you have the same terrible time I did trying to play the game online? Let me know through some comments! I really want to hear your thoughts on the whole thing!

Until then, Sparky is signing off. I’m off to play some more tennis!

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A Call to Arms (Arms First Impressions)

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In the seemingly never ending wait for new content on the Nintendo Switch, there is shining light in the distance, just a couple weeks away: Arms is a Nintendo-made unique spin on the fighting-game genre. Every character has stretchy arms (or some equivalent) and they take each other on in the most intense style of boxing and tests of skill imaginable. And it comes complete with bombs, fire, ice, electricity, robot suits, mummies, laser-shooting-dragon-head attachments, and unidentifiable piles of goo with fists.

Over the past couple weekends, Nintendo has been running a special demo version of the game called the Arms Global Testpunch. Nintendo Switch users from all over were able to get a taste of the game, playing online against other players experiencing the game for the first time, myself included. So, I felt like it would be fun to voice my opinion on the whole thing! There was only so much players were allowed to experience, but the online sessions I did manage to jump in on were a lot of fun.

Let’s get started on this little analysis, shall we? I’ll divide up different subjects about the game, and lists the pros and cons I feel were presented in the demo.

  • Graphics and Music: 
    • Pro: This game looks really, really good. It’s nice and colorful, it runs smoothly, and the characters and stages all look unique and are a joy to see in motion. The music is equally great, and the main theme can stick in your head pretty easily (as a good main theme to a game should).
    • Con:  I can’t think of any major negative aspects I would think are important enough to bring up. Some of the character designs didn’t seem quite as good as others (I don’t really care much for Ribbon Girl or Helix design-wise), but that’s really a non-issue.
  • Gameplay and Control
    • Pro: Your basic Arms match is a one-on-one fight, you and an opponent in the ring together. The standard fighting game rules apply: knock your opponent’s health down to zero, and you win! And with unique character abilities and a bunch of different styles of weapons (called Arms, of course) you can attach to you stretchy limbs, finding the combination of fighter and tools that suits you best is an experience of its own. There’s also two-vs-two gameplay where you team up with a partner, and a boss battle mode of sorts where three players join forces to take down a baddie called Headlok (who is literally a giant metal head that locks himself onto another fighters body. Get it? Headlok?). But there’s also a target punching mode, volleyball, and a basketball game where you use your opponent as the ball. It’s a good variety, to say the least!
    • Pro: The game has multiple control modes, and the one mainly featured in the demo is what’s called the “Thumbs Up Grip” mode. You play holding each half of the Joycon controller in your two hands, and you play the game mostly through motion control. You dodge, block, and punch all through the movements of your hands, and it’s AWESOME. This is motion control done right, making you feel like a part of the game! Of course, if you’re looking for something more standard, there are normal controller options too. But I feel like the true way to play is by swing your own fists! It makes for a good workout that way, too!
    • Con: I’d say the main problem with the controls is that maybe the game can be a little TOO sensitive in Thumbs Up mode at times. Like I mentioned, your movement, defending, and fighting are all done through the motion control. In the heat of a fight, depending on how you move your hands or the direction you hold the controllers in, you could end up blocking or throwing out a grab when you didn’t mean to, and it could cost you the game. You have to pay veeeeery close attention to what your hands are doing. And when your adrenaline gets pumping in the middle of a fight, that’s not the easiest thing in the world. Perhaps a normal control style can be more suitable for this game? I suppose it depends on the player.
  • Online Play
    • Pro: A big issue with Nintendo games in the past is the sometimes shoddy online play. Even the recently released Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is reportedly having issues. That being said, this doesn’t seem to be the case with Arms. The demo, after all, was online play only. And every motion of the controller, every button press, and every impact of my punches felt spot-on with no delay (not counting the occasional lagging connection with an opponent). Of course, this could change once the game is released and more people are playing online more regularly, but as it stands, Arms might be the best online experience for a Nintendo game to date.
    • Con: At least, it is the best when the game doesn’t randomly drop you. I had this strange issue where every 20 minutes or so, I would be given an error code and kicked out of the online lobby, even when I was in the middle of a fight. It could have been an issue with my internet, or maybe just an issue with the demo itself. And even when I did get kicked, I was able to jump right back online almost immediately with no problem. So I’m not sure what was up with that. I’d be interested to hear if other people experienced the same issue. Hopefully it doesn’t persist when the full game launches.

And that about covers my opinion on Arms so far! Overall, aside from the occasional oddity, it made a really good impression. Even if you didn’t manage to catch the demo periods, I would highly recommend picking up the full game when it launches on June 16th! I know I am.

Thank you for reading my little blurb on what could be Nintendo’s next smash-hit game. I would be well deserved for this to become a best seller for the system! Until next time, Sparky is signing off!

(I might even have a main fighter already! Mechanica is my jam!)