Ah, tennis. At various stages in my wonderful life, I tried to play the sport. I was terrible at it as a kid. Unbelievably, I actually got worse at it when I tried to play it again as an adult. Which brings us to Mario Tennis Open for the Nintendo 3DS. Unlike my exploits at real-life tennis, it was obvious within the first few minutes of playing it that things were going to turn out differently. That’s because this game was obviously designed to make folks both young and old feel good about their virtual tennis skills.
The follow-up to Mario Power Tennis (which happened to be my favorite game in the long list of Mario sports games), the latest iteration of Mario’s foray into the racket-based sport eschews the power shots of its predecessor in favor of “Chance Shots” for adding extra oomph to regular hits. It’s actually interesting because in some ways, parts of the game are more technical than Mario Power Tennis. At the same time, however, the addition of a simplified control scheme also makes it more accessible to casual players who likely would’ve fared poorly when playing the previous title on the Gamecube or Wii. This interesting dichotomy is what makes Mario Tennis Open both addicting and — for more technical gamers — potentially frustrating at the same time.
First, let’s delve into the game’s more technical aspects. At the core of Mario Tennis Open’s gameplay is the ability to choose from five different shots to better match situations on the court. You got your top spin and flat shot when you need to zip the ball straight up, a slice shot that curves sideways, and a lob and drop shot for strategically positioning the ball just by the net or way in the backcourt. Each shot can also be powered up by Chance Shots — indicated by random areas on the court where returning the ball is most ideal. Combined with the gyroscopic camera that allows you to aim your shot at your preferred location on the court, Mario Tennis Open provides an excellent chess match for baiting, luring and ultimately outsmarting your opponent by driving the ball out of reach.
To help kids and less technical players, however, Mario Tennis Open also adds a couple of gameplay wrinkles. One is a simple shot button that automatically picks the best shot (albeit with a wee bit less power), relieving players of having to quickly decide whether to return the ball with, say, a flat shot or a slicer. In addition, by not moving the circle pad manually to control your player, the character you’re using will automatically move to the ideal spot, including chance shot locations. Used together, both features allow less experienced players to have a fighting chance against their more skilled counterparts — a great feature for kids and casual gamers but not so good for more hardcore folk. Personally, I actually like how Nintendo tries to make their games more accessible to a lot more people, although adding an option to allow technical players to search for foes who don’t use simplified controls online would’ve alleviated much of the griping from hardcore gamers.
Despite some of the moaning from the hardcore community, though, the addition of online singles and double play, combined with various modes and unlocks makes Mario Tennis Open a fun game for a lot of folks in general. I like how I can play it with one of my gamer cousins or my less technical niece and get a challenge regardless. Ultimately, games are meant to be enjoyed and the more folks are able to get into it, the better I think for the sector and the gaming community as a whole.
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MARIO POWER TENNIS
- Platform: Nintendo 3DS
- Cost: $40
- Final rating: 3.5 stars out of 5