Mario Tennis Open Review

By Andrew Hayward - Posted May 23, 2012

Mario Tennis Open brings the long-running sports series to the Nintendo 3DS, complete with a gyroscope-based control option and the ability to play online solo and doubles matches. While a solid tennis experience, it's not one that feels strongly inspired by the Mario universe, nor does it offer a compelling career option.

The Pros
  • Special Games are a blast.
  • Online and local multiplayer are stellar.
  • Can lightly customize Miis with Mario gear.
The Cons
  • Lacks a compelling core single-player mode.
  • Pretty standard tennis, albeit with Mario sights.
  • Very lightweight overall package.

Mario Tennis Open 3DS Review:

Nintendo has never been shy about reviving its franchises of all shapes and sizes to help establish new platforms, and that's certainly been the case on the 3DS – both in terms of fresh entries in long-dormant series and refreshed Nintendo 64 classics. But with the handheld now out for more than a year, it's admittedly startling to see a game like Mario Tennis Open arrive with such slender ambitions. Much as the ball-whacking affair serves up solid fundamentals and the requisite array of hardware-specific functions, it merely feels like an adequate effort.

Court Control

Mario Tennis has appeared in a number of incarnations across several platforms over the years, and the version on display here feels less like a tennis game designed around the eccentricities of the Mario universe, and more like a common arcade-style tennis title – one that happens to feature familiar Mario faces and locations. While that simpler approach robs the game of some expected personality, Mario Tennis Open remains a very solid and approachable on-court affair, which puts the onus on taking advantage of chance shots to overcome opponents.

Chance shots are indicated by colored spotlights that appear on the court where the ball is headed, and choosing the correct shot as shown triggers a trick hit: the ball might accelerate and earn flames as it blasts back over the net, loop up and around before falling, or otherwise curve unexpectedly through the air. It's a light tweak on an otherwise pretty standard approach to the sport, and one you'll need to use to get a jump on foes. Since these shots often happen within numerous consecutive volleys, however, they're not remarkably powerful and still fall secondary to general shot placement in overall importance.

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Mario Tennis Open expectedly offers myriad control options, including those tailored to the 3DS hardware's specific strengths, such as optionally using the gyroscope in a mode that kicks in when the system is held upright. When engaged, the camera moves behind your character – as in the original Mario's Tennis for Virtual Boy – and player movement becomes automated (though you can optionally use the analog stick), leaving you responsible only for aiming hits by moving the system itself and either tapping a button or the touch screen for the desired shot type. Otherwise, the camera hangs back with an overhead tilt, with the analog stick used for both movement and aiming.

The gyroscope control scheme is one of those ideas that sounds interesting, but ultimately proves too awkward and limiting to appease serious players. Simply keeping the system held upright to use the option across several sets can be uncomfortable, but more notably, the tighter camera position really limits your field of view, and you're trading a lot of control over the situation in return for a perspective that offers marginal added immersion – especially since the 3D effect isn't available while using this setting.

Mario Tennis Open

Hits the Net

What keeps Mario Tennis Open from feeling really essential or enthralling is a surprising lack of engaging content. Perhaps the "Open" refers to the bare spot where a career mode or some other type of long-term play option should be. Instead, the game includes just a few brief tournaments in singles and doubles formats, which lose their flavor before long due to the lack of player progression or distinct Mario-inspired play elements. Aside from that, the traditional solo experience is limited to individual exhibition matches, though the coins earned through play can be used to customize your Mii with a small selection of Mario-themed gear and apparel.

Luckily, the multiplayer proves more exciting than the A.I. battles, especially online, where matching up and playing through sets was pretty well hassle-free throughout. Up to four players can pair up for doubles matches online or locally, either via multi-cart or download play, in addition to singles two-player skirmishes.

But Mario Tennis Open's best aspect is arguably its Special Games, a handful of mini-games that really do show both a clever touch and an appreciation for the wider Mario series – though naturally, they're just a small part of the experience. Super Mario Tennis is the most inventive of the bunch, as it displays a modified version of the original Super Mario Bros. on a wall and lets you interact by lobbing balls at enemies and item boxes to keep pushing forward. It's the kind of weird and wonderful little oddity that you hope to see in a series spin-off like this.

Mario Tennis Open

Ring Shot is a more typical mini-game offering by comparison, finding you volleying a ball through golden rings to rack up a high point tally, but it's no less fun. Galaxy Rally, meanwhile, takes visual cues from Super Mario Galaxy with a great themed court and floor panels that disappear as you collect star bits and maintain the volley. Last (and arguably least) is Ink Showdown, where you'll hit balls spit by Piranha Plants away from Peach's location while also repelling ink blobs that cloud the screen, but it's still a decent diversion within the set.

Mario Tennis Open

Open and Shut

Much as I enjoyed the Special Games, it's hardly encouraging that a few lightweight mini-games are the standout feature of a full-fledged $40 tennis package. Mario Tennis Open lacks the lasting appeal to make it as necessary as some of its forbearers, and following several earlier series entries that established the approach and often offered much more content, it's quite surprising that this one seems so thin and complacent. While enjoyable, this app-sized offering is a tough sell even with an expectedly light early summer slate of 3DS releases.