|By Zach Patterson||Friday, 11 Feb 2005|
Of what little I played of Mario Tennis for the N64, I found it to be a decent but slightly annoying game. However, I came to this game with high expectations that Camelot had put together a quality game. It resembles Mario Gold: Toadstool Tour in many ways: the roster of characters, quality of graphics, method of unlocking, etc. The game has a couple interesting features however, mainly the addition of special moves, a power shot and a ‘save’ shot that rescues the ball if it is out of your reach. These seem like a great idea, but some character’s specials appear to be a bit unbalanced. For example, if I am playing as Wario and trying to beat Koopa Troopa it is almost impossible to beat KT’s special that waterlogs the ball and drops it dead in front of the net because Wario is too slow and his specials are less effective than they should be. It was also observed that certain teams just had a really difficult time beating others. It seems like there should have been more balance for the characters.
Another new feature is the gimmick court, which takes several Mario games and builds a theme around the court, complete with obstacles and everything. For example, there is a Luigi’s Mansion court with ghosts that hold you unless you click the light button on the opposite side of the court. Other ones are two different courts from Mario Sunshine, one which involves moving panels on the Glooper Blooper stage (pretty cool stage) and one which shoots the ‘graffiti’ found in the game onto the stage to foul you up, though it can be removed by hitting a water button. Then there is a Wario Ware court (should have been better), Donkey Kong Country court (same thing), and hidden courts like the retro arcade Mario Bros. court. For the people hating the gimmicks and finding them a bit much (which I admittedly did for some), there are also classic courts with no gimmicks.
There are also several play modes for a quick game such as classic tennis, items tennis, and ring game. Classic tennis is self explanatory. Items tennis puts item boxes from Mario Kart in on the net and gives you items when you hit them, which can be used to help you or hurt your opponent. This mode is pretty crazy and fun, but at times gets to be too much to think about on screen. The ring mode is actually a pretty cool idea which rewards precision shots by shooting them through rings that grow over the net. They start out very small and worth a lot of points, and slowly grow bigger and become worth less. You set a point limit and the first player to reach it wins.
There are also some minigames which are fun diversions themselves. Examples include a painting game where you have to color portraits of Mario characters using colored tennis balls, cooling off chain chomps so they don’t attack you, and a ghost mini-game at Luigi’s mansion. Some of these seem very Mario Party inspired, just a bit more complex, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Not all of them are very fun, but it adds some needed variety to the game.
Graphic-wise, this game is rock solid. Possessing some of the best Mario models to date. The courts are equally excellent in both detail and function. Crowds, when applicable, seem realistic and vibrant.
The controls I have some slight issues with. While it is pretty simple to pick up and play, to fully use top spin and back spin, along with a lob takes quite a bit more skill. The lob is perhaps the hardest because you have to press A and B with a certain rhythm to get it to work (maybe I was doing it wrong, but it seemed hard as hell to do it consistently). I also found myself a little irritated in the minigames when it required precise shots and I simply could not drop them where I wanted to, though I knew what to do and was doing that. It just seemed a bit imprecise, especially compared to Virtua Tennis, my favorite tennis game. And unlike VT, which rewarded smart play and perceptive shots, MPT at times seems to reward lazy play and new players rather than allowing some experienced to beat them easily. This is a give or take as far as if it is a bad thing, but it is annoying knowing that you hit an awesome shot past a player only to have them tap their special move button and have the ball rescued from them being in poor position.
The music, as usual, is pretty good. It has a variety of Mario themed tunes for each level, but it also surprisingly has some good original tunes for the basic courts, which is good to see. Too often the ‘themes’ take the place of original music and it feels stagnant in games of this type.
Finally, I have to say that I enjoyed the game, but I do not know if I would recommend buying it for 50 bucks. If you were a big fan of the first game and love tennis games, I would say go for it, but it lacks the depth of Smash Bros. Melee when it comes to extras, coming closer to what Mario Golf or Double Dash had instead. It makes a really good party game and an excellent rental, but I don’t think it’s worth buying until it becomes a player’s choice title.