Mario Tennis Open: Suit up and serve against the world

June 6, 2012

When we last saw an original Mario Tennis title, Camelot and Nintendo had us traversing the halls and sidewalks of the Royal Tennis Academy in search of opportunities to level up our main protagonist in hopes of advancing through the school’s leader board of tennis prodigies.  It has been almost seven years since Mario Tennis: Power Tour for the Game Boy Advance uniquely blended the role-playing and sports genres, giving us a relatable sports narrative to go along with the already successful formula of Mario & friends squaring off on the tennis court.

With the storytelling of Power Tour not replicated in their new game, just what could we expect as progress with Mario Tennis Open for the 3DS?  And most importantly, would it be enough for gamers to want to come back?

Mario Tennis Open’s focus leans on the two novel features of their handheld hardware:  expanded multiplayer and a dynamic view camera option.  While the basic tenets of a Mario sports game are here (win tournaments to unlock stuff), your success in the game is mainly measured on the coins you collect and subsequently spend on clothing apparel to bedazzle your Mii.  These items each have a Power, Spin and Move rating that improve your Mii once equipped.  Am I fashion-forward with my Waluigi wristbands, Yoshi shoes and Wario racket?  Okay, so I’m not getting my own show on Bravo anytime soon with these clashing combos, but I’ve got some serious speed on the court.

You also unlock different character costumes for your Mii to wear after accomplishing different tasks.  There is nothing quite like wearing the skin of Petey Piranha and swinging a tennis racket.  However, the majority of the costumes take either an incredible amount of time to open, or require you to live in a community where everyone has a 3DS, has Mario Tennis Open and has their StreetPass on all the time.

This character customization all builds back to being able to go online and compete in different multiplayer matches.  You can use a stock character in the game, but the hook is using your optimized Mii.  You have your local options, which include download play so your friends don’t need the game to take you on, and random online matches in which you win victory medals (which open costumes) and move up a leader board.  I thought my connection worked fine in my stint online, and my underdressed Mii (in comparison to others) did pretty well, especially against a Yoshi or Luigi.

The dynamic view option in the game allows you to use the 3DS’ camera as your aiming mechanism and brings the in-game view considerably closer to the court than past games.  There is no 3D for the dynamic view, which inherently makes sense given how you’re swinging your 3DS around, but by tilting your system back and holding steady, you can flip to the fixed camera where the game is zoomed out.  And for those holding out since Mario’s Tennis for the Virtual Boy, there is 3D with this view.  While this sounds great on paper, the execution is fickle and causes quite a distraction if you flip back and forth while you’re trying to maneuver to a return volley.

Fortunately, you can turn the gyro sensor off in the options and just play with the more natural fixed camera and analog stick aiming.  The controls are familiar for any Mario Tennis patron.  You have buttons for top spin, flat or slice shots, as well as simple combos for lobs and drops.  The shot options are also mapped to a color on the touch screen, for those that enjoy non-conventional and unnatural control layouts in their sports gaming.

As with other titles in the Mario Tennis series, there are special minigames that let you earn more coins toward your wardrobe.  We’ve been here before.  You hit a certain number of coins within an allotted amount of time, and advance to a more difficult challenge with the same rules.  The real star here is volleying through an abridged version of the original Super Mario Bros., collecting coins and getting points from hitting Goombas.  If you’ve ever smacked a tennis ball off a brick wall, you’ll understand the physics at play here, and the levels are timed for added difficulty.  This is a fun new challenge in a game littered with modes and gameplay we’ve seen previously.

The Mario Tennis experience has remained consistent over gaming generations, and there is not enough “new” in Mario Tennis Open to warrant exploring if you’re content with the GameCube or Game Boy Advance titles.  If you have previously pined for the chance to play Mario Tennis against the world after slicing through your friends locally, your chance has finally arrived.  Customizing your Mii for online competition can be fun and the dearth of unlockables adds replay value for those that want to have everything in the game.

Pros:  Multiplayer, Mii customization, Easy learning curve
Cons:  Not enough new features to advance the series

Score: 3/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.