Mario tennis games have been delivering ball-smashing thrills on every one of Nintendo's various console platforms for years. Heck, even the disastrous Virtual Boy had a decent tennis title, although like Tim Henman's recent form, did produce headaches and nausea if you watched for too long.
Taking to the centre court this Christmas, however, is Mario Tennis Power Tour, the sequel to the excellent Mario Tennis game on Game Boy Color some years ago. Nintendo and developer Camelot have taken the role-playing build-your-own character of the original (and its sister game Mario Golf) and fused it with the recent GameCube tennis game that allowed you to pull off ridiculous over-the-top power moves to win points. The result is an utterly silly, non-realistic but instantly-playable arcade tennis knockabout that you'll probably love more than slo-mo replays of Maria Sharapova.
So what's on offer? Well, the single-player tennis adventure has your male or female character training at the Royal Tennis Academy to hopefully beat reigning show-off Mario and become champion. As you dash around getting tennis lessons, chatting to other students and playing tournaments, you gain experience points to level up (in classic RPG form) for better speed, spin, control and shot power, and other stats, as well as gaining special "power shots". It's hellishly addictive stuff - especially when you discover the wonderful mini-games that can be unlocked, including everything from hitting panels to score points to manic treadmill challenges where you have to run while avoiding barrels and banana skins.
Yet the main attraction of Mario Tennis Power Tour is the singles or doubles tennis matches, which you can play in Story Mode with your RPG character, or jump straight in with the single-player mode as Donkey Kong (for monkey tennis) or one of the other famous Nintendo crew. Using the A & B buttons, you can pull off a surprising amount of shots, including volleys, lobs, smashes and back-hands, and you can even taunt opponents with shouts and gestures in-between shots.
The much-heralded power shots are here in full effect, available in both offensive and defensive flavours, and each character has different abilities that again are unlocked as you progress in the RPG mode. When your power bar has been charged up sufficiently during a rally, your character starts to sparkle and you can then trigger a power shot that has Mario comically pulling out his hammer and twatting the ball over the net, for example, or Waluigi flooding the court and swimming over to rescue points.
Power shots are enormous amounts of fun, with their animation and glitzy effects some of the best ever seen on the GBA, although if you find the constant interruptions annoying you can play a vanilla game of tennis without them. Plus, if you do eventually tire of playing against the CPU, you can always hook up with up to three other friends and enjoy multiplayer matches too.
Mario Tennis Power Tour certainly doesn't have the sophistication and deft handling of Virtua Tennis: World Tour on PSP, but it isn't meant to be a realistic representation of Wimbledon fortnight. The simple, pick-up-and-play aesthetic that Nintendo oozes from its sweaty pores will soon have you thwacking the balls around the court like Roger Federer on Sunny D. The lush cartoon graphics, catchy music, smart sound effects and voice samples all add up to a classy cart that's right at home in the new GBA Micro, ready to be sneaked into a business meeting, exam, school assembly - anywhere that's dull and in need of brightening up. Nintendo have "served" up a "smash" hit that will surely increase their "net" profits in "nil" time. Please kill me.
Jamie Sefton is editor of our splendid sister-mag PC Zone but still finds time to love Nintendo harder than most. The next issue of PC Zone hits shelves December 8.