Mario Tennis Open review: Nintendo serves up a return to form

Not quite as good as N64, but better than GameCube...

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Multiplayer matches should benefit in particular from both players understanding the nuances of these moves - as we'll find out for ourselves when we get a proper chance to test Open's online functionality once it's released. Regardless, in theory you're supposed to respond to a chance shot by returning them with a shot of the opposite type, but in practice it's hard enough to keep track of what colour signifies what shot.


Mario Tennis Open's touch screen controls should make this simple. Take one look at the bottom screen, however, awkwardly chopped into coloured pieces like toddler's first jigsaw puzzle, and you'll soon realise that's not going to be the case. There are simply too many moves squeezed into a small space - try to jab them with your thumb at short notice and you're just as likely to to send the ball flying skywards, setting your opponent up for a blistering finisher, as you are to slice it past them at speed.

The 3DS gyroscope does offer an alternative, but it's one that massively changes the feel of the game. When enabled, the camera zooms low for a dramatic over-the-shoulder view - and, just like in Wii Sports, your character will start automatically running for the ball.

In this mode, the idea is that you adjust the aim of your shots by tilting the unit to the left and right. It works - surprisingly well in fact - but it's definitely better for aiming than returning: over the shoulder views might be great for placing your shots, but they're not really much good for tracking the angle of your opponent's return. In this battle for control-input dominance, in other words, it's the good ol' circle pad and face buttons that win out.

Outside of tournaments and exhibition matches, there's a small batch of special games. Of the bunch, only one feels gimmicky - which isn't bad going considering that they're all variations on hitting a ball over a net. One returning classic is the brilliant Ring Shot, where you and a partner team up to keep a rally going for as long as you can, hitting the ball through bright gold rings in order to ratchet up your score.

Another similar game is Galaxy Rally - this borrows the shrinking tiles from Super Mario Galaxy and builds a tennis court out of them, the inevitable outcome of such an egregious design oversight being a surface that disappears whenever a ball hits it. Again, you and a friendly Luma must keep a rally going for as long as you can, the Galaxy theme music spurring you on all the while.

Ink Showdown, meanwhile, is the rubbish one - in that it's basically an ordinary game of tennis with the added bonus of piranha blots splatting the screen with an ink effect shamelessly borrowed from Super Mario Kart. Super Mario Tennis, however - now this is a minigame.

It's a twist on the "play against a wall" game that's featured in the series since Mario Tennis, except the wall just happens to be emulating Super Mario Bros - a pastiche of levels from that game autoscrolls across the wall, and you get points for hitting goombas, coins and question mark blocks. It's target practice, but the second you're rewarded for hitting the topmost part of an end-of-level flag with a lob shot is the second you'll agree it's the best target practice ever.


Meanwhile, StreetPass provides the last drops of entertainment value. Your carefully crafted Miis can be exchanged through the 3DS' wireless magic. Once you've got another person's Mii, you can play against it - it's a multiplayer match, in other words, just without the other player.

So, Open's not quite as good as the N64's Mario Tennis. But it's better than the GameCube's Mario Power Tennis, and it completely destroys Mario's Tennis for the Virtual Boy. Like Mario Kart, there's something that just feels right about livening up this sport with a dash of Murshroom Kingdom charm - and Mario Tennis Open is almost a return to form.

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The verdict

It's Mario - playing tennis! The special moves might be a tad too powerful, but otherwise the plumber serves up a well-aimed slice of sporting fun.

Nintendo 3DS