Review by Jurnco

Reviewed: 03/30/07

Mario Luv

The sports and Mario combination really took off with the release of Mario Golf and Mario Tennis for the Nintendo 64, but the plumber had his eye on the ball quite some time before these classic titles hit the market. Mario’s Tennis for the Virtual Boy marked Mario’s debut in the sporting world. But does Mario’s Virtual outing tear up the courts, or should it hit the showers?

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to take advantage of the Virtual Boy’s 3D effects, the brief intro sees Mario smashing a tennis ball “out of the screen”. It’s a fairly impressive display, and does show off the capabilities of the system, but the real innovation comes into play when a tennis match is started up. The court is the only true 3D object in the game. 2D characters roam its speckled surface, auto-scaling as they move about the court to create the illusion of 3D space. The effect is pretty convincing, and it gives the game almost a Paper Mario like cutout feel to it, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your tastes. Given the hardware limitations of the Virtual Boy, Nintendo has done a respectable job with the graphical presentation. The sprites are well drawn and animated, and the use of 3D creates very good depth perception, which helps in understanding the relation of the ball to the characters. The environments in Mario’s Tennis, however, are extremely bland. Outside of the court itself everything is pitch black. Off in the distance there are some Mario-esque mountains and clouds as well as other familiar Mario themed backdrops. Occasionally an airship will fly past, adding some flare to an otherwise uninteresting environment. The graphical rendering is somewhat glitch ridden, often unintentionally forming gaping holes in characters when a ball is hit through them. But otherwise Mario’s Tennis has a pretty solid presentation.

Mario’s Tennis is one of the few games that takes the gimmick of the Virtual Boy’s 3D capabilities and puts it to good use. The 3D court actually works to your benefit, and with how difficult the game is, any help is welcome. Even when set on easy, the computer is incredibly challenging. The computer can be taken on with one of seven characters from the Mario world in either a single event or a tournament. Which one you pick really boils down to how much time you have. Mario’s Tennis stays very true to the sport, all of the rules are in tact and it plays out like the real game. Unfortunately, the length of the match is also very true to the sport, and some rounds last far longer than they should. This is especially true when playing doubles. With four athletes working the court, it can take a long, long time to score any points. The computer-controlled teammate in doubles is surprisingly intelligent--actively reacting to your position on the court. He’ll even return a fair amount of balls, but if too much is put on his shoulders he will eventually miss. While doubles is more difficult to score points in than singles, it’s also much more fun and challenging. Doubles requires some amount of strategy and planning to be successful, and it can be pretty rewarding to win a match.

Working the courts is fairly straightforward. The left directional pad controls movement while A and B swings (either a lob or a smash). Depending on what direction the D-pad is held when hitting the ball will determine the angle of the shot. Shots also vary depending on the character’s relation to the ball when swinging. If the character is close to the net, he/she will perform a drop shot. If they are too far away, they will attempt to dive for the ball. The control scheme is functional, but lacks some of the finer mechanics such as a charge shot. The collision detection isn’t always spot on either, and sometimes what looks like a successful swing doesn’t register as a hit.

The sounds of tennis are crisp, although decidedly old school 8-bit Mario style. Using the well placed stereo speakers of the Virtual Boy, the game produces some interesting and rather effective surround sound effects. Unlike the sound effects, the music in Mario’s Tennis is extremely scratchy and digitized. Some of the songs are actually quite catchy, but due to the repetitive nature of the music, they become annoying after a few plays through. It doesn’t add to the experience, but fortunately it doesn’t detract either.

Closing Comments
Mario’s Tennis is a fantastic challenge, and can be quite fun, but the lack of variety makes the appeal wear thin very quickly. A good amount of time could be spent in the tournament mode, but the games take so long to complete that it's nearly impossible to stay focused that long. Mario’s Tennis is great in short bursts, but it can become tiring after a few matches. However, there isn't anything to unlock or any real goal to work for, so it makes it hard to have any desire to really get into the game.

+ Interesting 3D effects
+ Great depth perception
+ Challenging
-- Lack of variety
-- Limited control scheme
-- Inconsistent collision detection


Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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