Why is there a RPG in my tennis game? Who put it there, and, perhaps more importantly, why? The Mushroom Kingdom’s latest foray into the wide world of sports takes place on the tennis court, and while it provides a slightly entertaining diversion in multiplayer and Exhibition Modes, it is the game’s excruciatingly dull and cumbersome single player RPG train wreck that truly drags down the experience. The game tries to do too many things rather than focus on perfecting a single facet of the gameplay, and as a result Mario Tennis: Power Tour just misses the mark and ends up serving up a shallow, forgettable game.Which is a shame, considering how much fun the game’s GameCube incarnation proved to be. Granted, the already mentioned multiplayer and Exhibition Modes do bring some of the fun of the console version to the portable screen. You have the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom lobbing balls back and forth in both singles and doubles matches, complete with daring dives and earthshaking special moves. Unfortunately the single player mode is hampered by spotty A.I. that is inconsistent on its best days, and exhibits holes that are too easily exploited after only a short time spent with the game. For example, many times while serving from the right, by pulling your character to the far right before hitting the ball you are almost always guaranteed to send it past your opponent for a free point. Sure, so-called cheats such as these don’t have to be used, but the fact that Camelot even let this slip below the radar is questionable.
Thankfully human opponents are much more difficult to predict, and as such these multiplayer bouts serve up the most fun this game has to offer. Camelot has also included the ability to link up to four players together either via the archaic GBA Link Cable or the Wireless Adapter for some heated action. Here players can pick from a selection of Mushroom Kingdom staples, as well as whatever generic anime kids that have been unlocked in the Story Mode. Without question, the game’s multiplayer component is the soul of Mario Tennis: Power Tour. It’s too bad this couldn’t be extended to the rest of the game.
Sadly, the meat of the experience – an RPG that would bore even the most open minded role-playing enthusiast – excels only at being tepid. The story follows Ace and Clay, two up and coming tennis players at some Tennis Academy. But wait, isn’t this a Mario sports title? Why yes it is, but you’re better off putting a pin in that notion, because here at the Academy you’ll instead be going head to head against a laundry list of generic anime characters, every one as forgettable as the last. Better still, once you defeat these cookie cutter characters at tennis on your road to stardom, they become selectable in Exhibition Mode. Finally, a game where you can pit Yoshi against Meg. The whole experience is the videogame equivalent of Lunesta, and those players looking for a digital sleep aid need look no further.
Playing as either Clay or Ace, you gain points by besting opponents in an array of tennis matches, each one slightly more difficult than the last. When you finish a challenge, these points can then be applied and – in the case of doubles – divvied up between the two characters so they will go up in level and thus become better at their craft. As they progress, both Ace and Clay will gain bonuses to their various stats, including Power, Control, Side Spin, and Speed. They will also get more proficient at the various types of shots in the game, including Serve, Stroke, Volley, Top Spin and Slice.
However, it’s hard to care about this development when you cannot care less about the characters in question. Most players who suffer through the Story Mode will likely do so simply by going through the motions, balancing out points and button mashing their way through the benign dialog just so that they can work their way to yet another tennis match versus unfamiliar characters. The mechanics are sound, but they are wrapped in an experience without any personality. Sure, eventually the story intersects with the Mushroom Kingdom we all know and love, but the game would have benefited by having this familiarity in place from the onset.
Mario Tennis: Power Tour is simply not a very good game. While it’s presentation bears all of the hallmarks of the Mario franchise, the game itself falls far short of expectations. With spotty A.I and a forgettable story serving as the game’s biggest failings, even a robust and entertaining multiplayer component cannot save this title from being best forgotten. The tennis itself is decent, as are the mini-games that crop up now and again, but there just isn’t enough here that is compelling enough to justify a recommended purchase.