"Lazy gameplay and online coupled with extensive unlockables"
The sixth generation had Mario playing almost every single mainstream sport there was (sorry, no cricket or bowling): Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (golf), Mario Power Tennis (tennis), Super Mario Strikers (soccer), Mario Superstar Baseball (baseball), and Mario Hoops 3-on-3 (basketball). Some of these games have been predecessors for Wii and 3DS installments in their various franchises, while other games have stalled due to lack of sales. Mario Tennis Open is the sixth installment into the Mario Tennis series (third on a handheld), and is the fifth major first-party release to come to the 3DS. With Nintendo serving up a new tennis game, it is only fair that there be an adequate return from the fan base. Many of its predecessors gained acclaim from Mario fans, yet it has been seven years since the release of Mario Tennis: Power Tour. The tennis franchise must keep up with the times and fix the mistakes of the games before it if it's to be successful. Nintendo has fallen flat on many games recently, so is Mario Tennis Open an ace, or is it a double-fault?
Content --- 7/10
Nintendo managed to make a game where there are very little things to do within the game itself (however well-made they may be), but there are many unlockables to be gained. Instead of investing time to make a flurry of different modes (like Mario Power Tennis did), Nintendo invested time to make an array of unlockables--in relation to game size, almost as many unlockables and collectibles as Brawl.
A lot can be judged by the size of the menu in a sports game; the more buttons to press, the more games there are to be played, and the more time there is to be spent actually enjoying the game. Sadly, Mario Tennis Open only has three buttons within single player mode and two buttons within online mode. The content is lacking. There is the classic Tournament Mode, the classic Exhibition Mode (which is rarely used), and the Special Games Mode which has four different minigames that will each unlock a character if cleared on the hardest difficulty. Tournament Mode, while engaging, can simply get tedious after trying to complete it for every single character--all sixteen of them (excluding QR characters and Mii). Exhibition Mode is useless because, frankly, who would want to play a tennis match against a computer opponent when there are thousands of people playing online? It simply takes up space on the barren menu that could be better used by more minigames, more extras, more anything. The minigames are nothing to sneeze at in their creativity, but the fact that there is only four minigames with three levels for each of them leaves a lot to be desired. Single player modes are full of disappointment, and it's seriously stunning that Nintendo can continue to offer games with minimal content and minimal effort on their part to assuage that minimalism game-after-game-after-game.
Regardless, there is plenty of content in one area: the Item Shop. The Item Shop is practically a candy store for Nintendo fans; there is tennis equipment themed off of practically every beloved character, item, and enemy in the Mario-universe. Bullet Bills, Boos, Bloopers, Fire (and Ice) Flowers, Chain Chomps, Hammer Bros, and even the famed ?-Block get their own themes that are embodied and personified in racket form, wristband form, uniform form, and shoe form. Furthermore, every character in the game also has its own set of tennis garb, all of which can be worn by your Mii. However, only by your Mii. All of this tennis gear can be collected through tournaments and exhibition matches, stored in the wardrobe, and mixed and matched to your liking to make the perfect Mii outfit which will be worn by your little Mii in any tennis match he or she participates in. On top of all this gear, there are a few characters to be unlocked, and a few characters to be imported by QR codes. Mario Tennis Open has plenty of unlockables bound to satisfy any longtime fan of the Mario franchise.
However, the unlockables do not remain locked forever, and, once they are all unlocked, the depth of the game plummets. There is little else to do beyond unlock and unlock and unlock. While the customization of Mii characters is certainly welcome (and quite frankly awesome from the perspective of a Mario aficionado), customization cannot salvage the fact that there are practically no offline modes. It will take a good deal of time to star all of the characters, unlock all of the tennis gear, and capture all of those QR characters, but Nintendo should've put more effort into making a more complete offline mode--an offline mode with more to do.
Gameplay --- 6/10
Despite the missteps in the Content department (rather, the lack of taking steps), the gameplay is what truly suffers in Mario Tennis Open. While Mario Tennis Open is a casual game, it should not be this simple. It is frankly annoying that Nintendo naively believes that we, as their consumer base, cannot fully grasp or handle a more complex or skill-based game, or, if that isn't the case, that they can't spend the time to make a better game for the people who bother to buy it. While the gameplay in the game itself is well-executed, there is the fact that the gameplay is flawed and simplified beyond recognition of a regular tennis game. While this could most likely be attributed to the change in platforms, there is no excuse as to why Nintendo and Camelot could not make the gameplay more tennis-like.
Mario Tennis Open retains the normal formatting of a tennis match with some customization allowed (e.g. the number of sets and games). However, it's the actual play of the tennis match that is revoltingly elementary. The match is dominated by the systematic spamming of multi-colored buttons on the lower screen of the 3DS. Each of these buttons triggers a different type of shot: a simple shot, a topspin shot, a slice shot, a lob shot, a drop shot, and a flat shot. During the course of the tennis match, these different shots are simply made by repeatedly tapping the corresponding button as the ball approaches you. Furthermore, one of the buttons will likely be blinking, signally you should use that shot to get a “Chance Shot.” While chance shots themselves are rather impressive (they can yield insane slices, wicked drop shots, and huge lobs), the sheer fact that they come up in almost every return drastically over-exaggerates their importance. Simply pressing the lit button on the bottom screen will suffice for your gameplay. On top of that, chance shots are practically the only way to score a point; normal shots are horrendously underpowered in comparison, and are likely just bridges to the next chance shot.
An entire tennis match can be played by simply pressing the flashing button on the lower screen, and holding one direction on the circle pad. There is little movement (though it grows with importance with more skilled games), and strategy has been de-emphasized in vice of chance shots. The depth of any tennis match in Mario Tennis Open is likely to be mediocre at best, and points will most likely be determined by who can get the longest chance shot chain. However, despite this simplicity, the game can be rather engaging regardless. The setup is implemented well, and isn't clunky or clumsy. In fact, if you can round up some rather experienced friends, there can be a lot of intense volleys where the point is determined based on the summation of growing pressure upon the other side. If you can look past the potential simplicity of the setup, the game is definitely playable.
A major saving grace to the gameplay is the fact that the minigames are strangely addictive. For instance, one of the minigames (Galaxy Rally) has you returning a ball to a Luma with a tennis racket for a set number of returns. However, the court is divided into four quadrants, each of which can disappear upon the contact of the tennis ball. With every ball you return, the quadrant that it landed on will disappear (and another will reappear), forcing you to return the ball to a different quadrant either by use of a drop shot, or by use of the circle pad. As you progress through the game, more and more tiles will disappear. By the time you reach eighty returns, there'll only be one platform to return to, and it will switch after every return. Furthermore, you can pick up coins (which may be used to purchase unlockables in the Item Shop) by hitting star pieces on the quadrants. The other minigames are just as ingenious, and are just as engaging. Hours can be spent trying to clear each of them on their hardest difficulty, and then following that up with a personal record on free play (which is endless volleys in the case of Galaxy Rally). In fact, insane personal records must be set to unlock some of the most enticing collectibles in the Item Shop.
The gameplay is not stellar, though it is not broken. It can be adjusted to, and it can be truly fun if you can overlook the sheer simplicity of the control scheme. While the original intention of adding more types of shots was interesting, the addition of overpowered chance shots seriously hinders skill-based gameplay. The minigames try to compensate for this with their creativity, though the majority of the game is spent on the actual court, and not volleying tennis balls at a Luma in space. Most of the game is spent spamming the flashing button on the bottom screen.
Graphics --- 9/10
The graphics are superb for a 3DS game--by far the best graphics for a Mario game on the 3DS. All, and I mean all, of the figures are detailed, and their movements are fluid and dynamic. Detail is presented well during the course of the game, and the background is pleasant, but not distracting. Needless to say, there is a lot of attention to detail in the graphics department. While there could be some minor improvements (e.g. better presentation of the character selection screen, better menu selection, and others), they are far from game-breaking; anyone who is familiar with Mario games should be impressed by the stunning clarity of the game. Also, the 3D is mostly out-of-the-way. It is hardly intrusive, and it doesn't sicken nor distract you.
Sound --- 5/10
The music, on the other hand, is seriously terrible. None of the songs are catchy, and they can get rather annoying after a while. The title music is unimpressive and could latch onto any Mario sports game; the score for each of the tennis courts is severely uninspired and chaotic; the only music that actually has some sort of beat to it are those of other games that have been remixed for Mario Tennis Open. Every original song is truly sobering; it's as if Camelot walked up to Motoi Sakuraba (the composer), asked for a theme for a desert court, and received a generic, dull, uninspired, and lackluster song that the game could seriously do without. While there are the some satisfactory songs (e.g. Galaxy Arena [a Super Mario Galaxy remix] and Penguin Iceberg), they cannot salvage the other 80% of the soundtrack. The sound effects for the game are mostly good, and enhance the gameplay by simply distracting and tuning out some of the background themes.
Replayability/Online --- 7/10
The good news: there is online mode. Nintendo has finally started to integrate online gameplay into practically all of its multiplayer games, and it has certainly increased the replayability of Mario Tennis Open. Online play can generally fall under two different categories of what you can do; private friend rooms and local multiplayer (which includes DS Download play) allow you to play full exhibition matches and certain minigames whereas random online play will only allow short tie-break matches and two-games, one-set matches.
The former of the two is a great addition to the game. The customization of exhibition mode offers a lot if you can get some local friends to meet up, or if you can add a lot of decent players on your 3DS who have the game. You can play doubles matches, a few of the minigames, and even get some rating points out of the matches. However, the online mode is severely restricted if you aren't playing with friends. Firstly, you can only choose between playing a tiebreak match (in which someone must score seven points to win), or a short exhibition match. The interaction within online play is astoundingly limited. Mario Tennis Open practically rushes you through the match; it doesn't allow you to rematch your opponent, to choose your opponent, or to communicate with your opponent in any way. Each match will net you a rating, and some random points that gauge how much you've played this month, both of which are displayed on the monthly leaderboard. Rather, it's the monthly board of what place you're in, how many “points” you've got, and how many “points” the leader has. Online mode is < i>crude, and friend rooms are far superior to any random match you could find on the internet.
As for replayability itself, the game is insanely addictive if you're the type of person who wants to unlock everything. There are so many different articles of tennis gear that you'll spend a lot of time just trying to make a dent in how much there is to get. The minigames are fun to play, and it can take a while to get through all of the tournaments with all of the characters. Local multiplayer and friend rooms are great additions if you can get a consistent community of people to play with, and the addition of online gameplay can stretch out the longevity of the game itself. With Mario Tennis Open, you should be able to record a good 20 to 60 hours of gameplay in your Activity Log (depending on how much you enjoy it).
Mario Tennis Open is one of the better entries into the Tennis series. It has a good deal of unlockables that bide out the lackluster amount of modes, disappointing, though workable, gameplay with some stellar (literally) minigames, impressive graphics and detail, and multiplayer modes that do the game justice. While there are definitely detracting factors to the game itself, it meets the vitality of the rest of the 3DS line-up, and exceeds its brethren at certain points.
+ Addicting side games
+ Amazing graphics
+ There is online
+ Private friend rooms
- Few offline modes
- Gameplay is oversimplified
- Soundtrack is disappointing
- Limited online options
The latest Tennis game is worth your money if you can look past the lamentably simple gameplay. Some of the other entries are most definitely worse than this game, and the only other game in the series that is as engaging as Mario Tennis Open is Mario Power Tennis on the GameCube which is beginning to show its age. While there was a Wii port of the critically acclaimed GameCube game, Mario Tennis Open is more deserving of your money because of the online play and the upcoming release of the Wii U. This game will make a great addition to your ever-expanding 3DS library.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10
Game Release: Mario Tennis Open (US, 05/20/12)