On paper Mario Tennis Open is what gamblers might term a “banker”, a Mario-skewed take on tennis with all the cartoon effects of the Mushroom Kingdom combined with the all depth of tennis. What could go wrong?
Well, alas for Nintendo and Camelot, someone neglected to sprinkle enough of the most important ingredient of all into the mix: fun. Every Pirhana Plant, Penguin ballboy and green pipe screams ‘missed opportunity’ as you realise that beyond repetitive power smashes and familiar characters, that spark which makes Mario games so special is sorely missing.
It’s a shame because what Camelot have done with the 3DS’ controls deserves praise as the touchscreen becomes divided into distinct sectors, each of which triggers a certain shot type – lob, top spin, etc. – upon being triggered.
There’s a slight nod towards tactical play too as certain types of shots can be best countered with their direct opposites; however it’s a mechanic which doesn’t go far enough – something of a recurring theme with the game.
In fact, by way of experiment I elected to go through an entire tournament by using just the standard ‘simple’ shot alone, and sure enough I won the tournament while barely dropping a game. In fact so simple is the gameplay that you don’t even have to time your shot – simply standing where you know the ball will fall, hitting a shot type and waiting sufficing.
Occasionally coloured markers will appear on the court upon which playing the ‘correct’ shot will trigger a super hit – so producing banana shots and smashes which blast your opponent back – but most of the time taking such advice is far from the tactically sound option. the system for example suggesting you lob an opponent standing at the back of the court, strange indeed.
Once you beat the standard opens you’re able to unlock Star tournaments but despite expecting a challenge (finally) I was disappointed here too, my Star opponents barely putting up any more a challenge than their forebears and my meagre tennis skills proving more of a match. To put that into perspective, I’ve beaten every tournament and am yet to lose a match.
‘Yes,’ Camelot might say. ‘But there’s an online option.’ The only problem here being that portable games are, by their very nature, most often used on the go and therefore outside the realms of a wi-fi signal or proximity to a 3DS owning friend. Even once online the game falls down anyway thanks to an auto-pilot third-person mode which can be triggered at your leisure and makes the game even simpler to play still.
There are the makings of a really interesting game here, the trouble is Camelot have neither taken the game to its rightful extreme in either direction. On the one hand they could have eschewed any attempt at realism and had Mario and chums unleashing red shells at each other à la Mario Kart, or taking off to intercept lobs with a Tanooki suit at their disposal. On the other they could have served up (get it?) a tight, tactical tennis game using a more in-depth version of the already existing shot and counter-shot system.
Instead they’ve done neither, plunging the game into limbo and in turn leaving us discussing ‘what might have beens’ and ‘what ifs’. In Super Mario’s world surely that’s not good enough.