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.
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!