I've waited a long time for a game like Mario Tennis Aces. Not since the (I kid you not) dozens of hours I sank into the Virtua Tennis demo on Dreamcast have I played a game that captured that perfect, "weighty" feeling when connecting with a tennis ball. It feels impactful and heavy, but still fast and arcadey. It makes that lovely sonk! noise every time you take a whack at the ball. It's colorful and playful, but also incredibly competitive.
It's also a little barebones, depending on how you look at it, but if you're just here to play some freaking tennis, Mario Tennis Aces is going to utterly ensnare you.
For those of you who have been sharing that almost 20-year hunger for a fantastic arcade tennis experience, that's all you need to know. The gameplay in Aces is almost perfect. I mentioned that the game feels a bit barebones, and the larger community has been harping on this quite a bit, so I feel like I should clear that up for you straight away.
The story-driven adventure mode in Mario Tennis Aces ends up being more frustrating than it's worth. When I learned that Aces would feature a story mode with RPG elements, and that the game was being developed by Camelot, my hopeful imagination got the better of me. I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting, but what I got was a prolonged and rigorous set of trials and tutorials disguised as an adventure mode.
It will take you a few hours to work your way through the challenges and stages, but apart from the opportunity to unlock a handful of extra courts, there isn't too much incentive to do so; there's certainly no incentive to return once you've completed it for the first time. The rackets that you unlock cannot be selected when playing online, even aesthetically, and the levels and stats you earn while playing do not carry over anywhere. The boss fights are creative and really engaging, but you'll have to get through some grueling, drawn-out challenges before you face them.
No problem. You came here to hang out on the court anyway, and whether facing the CPU or other players online, the tennis court is where Aces shines. It is odd, therefore, that Nintendo did not see fit to include tournament options for those looking to play locally with their friends. The Switch is a bastion of local multiplayer, and this is such a basic feature to omit. You can play through a tournament against the CPU, or online against other players, but that's it.
For those of you who love to unlock and work toward things, it will feel like a bit of a step back from the online tournament demo where you unlocked additional players by playing. At the moment, additional courts are the only thing to unlock by playing through the adventure mode, and that has left a few players feeling burned.
Personally, I've been too busy playing tennis to notice. If the gameplay sinks its hooks in you, and if you have any kind of competitive streak at all, Mario Tennis Aces is bliss. Whether waggling wildly in "swing" mode, playing doubles with your friend or significant other online, or facing down some high level CPU opponents for practice, you're guaranteed a finely-tuned experience.
There's a "simple" mode for those of you who don't want to mess with the special shots, zone shots, or worry about keeping track of your power gauge. Simple mode is for those who only want the topspin, slice, flat, lob, and drop shots to use to and to be used against them. Many claim that this is the true test of skill, but I find myself gravitating to the standard mode of play. Who can resist the allure of rallies like this:
LMAO ARE WE EVEN PLAYING TENNIS ANYMORE LOL! pic.twitter.com/FuRb5OsWNb— Typing of the Red (@Jiikae) June 26, 2018
I'm holding my breath and assuming that Camelot and Nintendo will release some patches in the near future to balance things out. Online you're going to face a lot of Bowser Jr., a lot of Waluigi, and a lot of Boo. There's very little variety in terms of competition at the higher levels of play, because some characters have very clear reach or power advantages over others. Regardless, it is possible to counter all of these characters. Like in any fighting game, you simply have to use them and learn them yourself in order to exploit their weaknesses.
In fact, the fighting game comparison is applicable in more ways than one, here. Each character really does have his or her own unique advantages and shortcomings, and each will require your patience and attention if you want to use them effectively. I've had great fun learning Mario, Yoshi, Boo, Bowser Jr., and Peach.
The irony is that Mario Tennis Aces' highs and lows all come back to the issue of variety. On one hand, you have more characters than ever to learn and to play, and the gameplay mechanics are as rich and satisfying as they've ever been. On the other hand, we're currently robbed of a few very basic single-player and multiplayer setup options, and their omission seems senseless.
Be that as it may, I've booted up Mario Tennis Aces every single night since I got it, and it always makes me lose track of time. Missing options aside, I can't deny that this is the most fun I've had playing a tennis game since I was a kid, and I can guarantee that you and your friends will get serious mileage out of it.
ComicBook's Score: 4 / 5