Review by QXZ

"Love [luhv] 1. Affection; 2. {tennis} Nothing. Sadly, only the latter definition applies"

Mario has had a pretty full résumé on the Nintendo 64. You can search anywhere and everywhere for any cartridge that Nintendo has released, and his name will be on almost every one. Good luck trying to find on that doesn’t! Well, as if Mario’s résumé wasn’t full enough, now he’s actually returning to the field of tennis. He’s already had experience with sitting in that rock-hard, pain-in-the-butt chair as a tennis referee, but how good a player is Mario?

The game invites the regulars of the Mario series to a round of tennis. With Mario, his younger self, Luigi and Princess Peach, there’s Donkey Kong, the Professor and Mary Ann, are here on the 64.

Mario Tennis also invites some less familiar faces only those older than 15 would remember. The earliest of these invitees is Donkey Kong, Jr., who, in 1982, hated Mario’s guts; Time has only made decreased the tension between the two. Next come Birdo and Shyguy, both from the American release of Super Mario 2. There is also a princess you may never have heard of. Daisy, whose name may ring familiar for Game Boy owners as the heroine in Super Mario Land — Nintendo’s forgotten heroine.

Finally, we have Waluigi. Wario’s brother. Luigi’s new nemesis. Bottom of the barrel material. Characters like this Waluigi dude makes me curious enough to discover how desperate for ideas the guys are Nintendo really are.

Anyway, the game is tennis. By the title alone, you should know that by now. It’s the game with the scoring system that makes no sense — 15, 30, 40. There isn’t much to the controls. Only two buttons are needed for the game — top spin and lob; Aiming is done through the use of the thumb stick. As minimal and lacking as the controls are, the controls are efficient, combining the two buttons and the thumb stick during a shot make for a some trick shots to fool the enemy.

When you take care of the basics, there are a few ways to put your experience your experience to work:

Exhibition is the love-15-30-40 game — standard fare, nothing special. Can be played in single set and best of three or five sets, two or six games per.

And, if you want to extend that game, you can enter one of the handful of tournaments. More 15-30-40 games, played “best of x” two-game sets; Why six-game sets weren’t made available I do not know. In the Mario Tennis tourneys, you climb up the tournament ladder in hopes of winning a nice, shiny, decorated gold trophy. The effort is warranted by a nice trophy ceremony and the activities therein. Be prepared, since lack of experience may require your outbursts to be bleeped out.

Everything aside from standard tennis, there are other ways to play. Fulfilling, or at least trying to fulfill their own potential, manages to cause the whole package to trip over its shoelaces; Yet, everyone might be wearing shoes with velcro straps — I’ve never known. Most of the extras come at a fairly steep price price, though: You need at least two controllers.

Bowser’s arena combines the standard, odd score system game with elements ripped straight from Mario Kart. Vital organs hanging out, I’m split down the middle on the idea. Positively, the weapons are reminiscent of the said game, adding banana peels, turtle shells, and whatnot, adding cutthroat combat to the game. Negatively, there are several unnecessary elements thrown in with the weapons — the star, which is usually protective, is now useless. Decent fun, as it can be played with any number of controls.

Mario Golf’s ring game makes the transition from the links to the tennis court. Good feature, but it slips on the leftover banana peels from the Bowser arena.

You get the option of playing against the computer, in quick challenge games. Clear enough within a set time or ball limit, you move onto the next round with a new opponent/ally. Not a particularly difficult task. Pairing up with a partner who’s too dumb to realize it’s also their own cause is the only obstacle. Enough practice, experience, and tolerance under your... belt, you can breeze past the whole exercise in short time.

With more controllers in the system, the ring game does get more interesting. Start a good rally and smash the ball to win, picking up the tally, adding it to your score and be the first to a set number. It can be played mano a mano, in teams of two, or battle royale — better described as a game of greed. The team modes are good fun, employing a bit of strategy in accumulating a score of rings and managing that fatal shot. Battle royale mode sucks like Kirby, which is odd, since the pink puff wasn’t even handed an invite.

Other modes are available, which is good. Requiring an even number of controllers to use most of them, however, is bad.

Complaints about game selection aside, there are some notable flaws in the gameplay itself. No, it’s not the speed of the game, it’s the ball. It just looks too big. After certain shots, the ball has an aura about it. Judging whether the ball lands on any lines is guesswork at times; Only when hearing “out” does it make sense.

Ball service is not quite as bad, but I might just say it’s even worse. The line judge seems too lenient in allowing bad serves. Even times when a serve looks faulty, it sometimes isn’t. I could easily scream “You can’t be serious!”, like John McEnroe, even wanting to throw the closest tennis racquet at hand.

My biggest gripe with this game is that you can be scored on just by being the victim of a malicious return. It’s best described as a cheap shot, plain and simple.

Other than the ball that is twice regulation size and some fairly cheap shots, everything else you see here is standard operating procedure for tennis. Around the stadium, we find a crowd, Mario’s return appearance in the judge’s chair, the players on the field, and nothing special to see folks; Show’s over.

Nintendo’s all-star cast looks no different in quality from the N64’s infancy — not really a bad thing. Everyone animates well, and are always easily identified in action — always a plus.

Audio is there just because it’s an obligation. Music does almost nothing to add to the game. Only through the specialty character courts does music actually mold itself into the environment. Mario’s tune is as good as ever, as well as Donkey Kong’s. Yoshi’s music... frankly, causes an involuntary stomach reaction.

Sound effects are similar to what you hear on TV. The regulation swat of the ball, the roar of the crowd — they’re all there. Everyone even grunts in their own way per shot. Those who appeared in Mario Golf haven’t changed a bit. Yet, Yoshi sounds awful. And hearing Mario announce every point goes to the point of total annoyance. Wasn’t the “nice shot” guy from Mario Golf available? He would have been the perfect moderator for the contests.

After adding everything up, I haven’t any clue why, but Mario Tennis simply lacked the magic, the chemistry, the pure omnipresent sensation of joy in Mario Golf. They both are two different games, as well as two different sports — while golf is a game of many hills, slopes, and different angles, tennis is just an upside-down T, flat surface and all — but nothing here clicked with me.

With how much I loved Mario Golf, I expected Mario Tennis to be more of the same fun. Mario Tennis is a disappointment. Thus, recommending Mario Tennis for long-term enjoyment is difficult. Playing alone, I was bored within a week. With a group, it is good for a quick fix of entertainment.

As a straight tennis title, Mario Tennis could have been a worthy follow-up to the awesome Mario Golf. Its faults can be linked to some of the gameplay mechanics, but how far off the deep end these guys went with all the fancy stuff just left me in the cold. All the extras, the bonuses, the novelties — all wasted opportunities. I just can’t really find anything really memorable about Mario Tennis at all.

I really wish I didn’t have to, but the universal tennis glossary entry applies: There is a lot of love to be found in Mario Tennis.

MY SCORE: 5.5


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 05/04/02, Updated 05/04/02


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