Mario Power Tennis is a long awaited game to say the least, the third of its kind and the sequel to one of the Nintendo64's most popular games, Mario Tennis. So with that said it is no surprise that Nintendo and developers Camelot have some large expectations to meet, especially considering the recent successes of their other arcade sports titles such as Mario Golf for the GameCube and Game Boy Advance. Mario Power Tennis does not fail to deliver, serving up a fun, enjoyable arcade sports title that takes some generous liberties on the sport of kings.
Most Nintendo games are deliberately made simplistic as to allow a "pick up and play" feel. Mario Power Tennis is no exception to that rule. You move your character around with the control stick, and the A button fires off the standard topspin shot. The B button gives you a slice, which is a much lower and slower swing. Those two shots are generally what you'll use for most of your matches. Of course there are others, the lob (A+B), drop shot (B+A) and the smash, a very high powered move which can be executed only when being the recipient of a high flying shot. The directions of the hits can be influenced by simply holding the control stick in whatever direction you want just before you swing. However as simple as this may appear on the surface, developers Camelot have thrown in some surprisingly realistic mechanics in the game. The power of shots is not only determined by what kind of shot you play, but also by how high the ball is, where you are in relation to the ball, and what angle you're facing.
Last nights pizza takes out its revenge
Power Tennis has an abundance of characters to choose from. All characters have their pros and cons, and are categorized as such. For example Mario and Luigi are classed as 'All Round' characters, meaning that they're pretty well balanced in all areas of play, but don't excel anywhere. Then 'Technical' players such as Peach, her doppelganger Daisy, and Shy Guy excel at having pinpoint accuracy, but at the same time their shots are less powerful. Power players like Bowser and Wario are slow, but can smash the ball harder than anyone else, while speed players sacrifice power for some fancy footwork. The last two categories are Defensive players whose goal is to return everything and let their opponents make the mistakes, and 'tricky' players, who fire volley after volley of curve balls. In general the classes are well balanced, bar one instance. The power players are meant to be slow, thus equaling out somewhat their above average strength, and slow they are. However, due to their large size this doesn't affect them as much as it should seeing their bulk (especially apparent in Bowser's case) means they take up half the court and can merely stretch out and reach the ball from most positions. Thus removing the effectiveness of their low speed attribute and making matches against power players tedious and unbalanced at times.
All Rounder: Mario, Luigi
Technical: Peach, Daisy, Shy Guy, Paratroopa
Power: Wario, Bowser, Donkey Kong, Petey Piranha
Speedsters: Yoshi, Diddy Kong, Koopa Troopa
Defensive: Waluigi, Wiggler
Tricky Players: Boo, Bowser Jr., Fly Guy.
That's right, you read correctly, Camelot, in their infinite wisdom decided to make Wiggler and Petey Piranha playable characters. In all seriousness, does anyone out there like those two characters? Because I for one lost all neutrality towards Petey after that giant head of his kept on getting in the way on Mario Kart: Double Dash!! Also of note Toad makes possibly his first ever absence from a Mario title, something that is sure to disappoint some as the chubby faced mushroom is one of the greater Mario families most popular characters.
Peach Dome takes a break from hosting Death Metal concerts to showcase the Mushroom Kingdoms finest tennis talent
Other than having classes, characters are set apart by their special moves. Each character possesses two unique moves, one offensive and one defensive. These can be activated after you perform a certain amount of normal shots and you see a coloured glow around your racket, it usually takes only 10-20 seconds to activate this ability, a short time span which is one of the games most irritating flaws. Offensive moves can be pulled off when the ball is directly in front of you by holding the R-shoulder button and tapping the A button. Offensive moves go at a much higher speed than a standard shot, and if an opponent attempts to return the ball they are pushed back and stunned for a few seconds. The offensive shot is a good move to pull off to end long rallies in singles matches, however in doubles the power shot isn't effective at all. Defensive shots on the other hand play an extremely important role in gameplay, although as important as it may be it's also extremely annoying. A defensive shot can be activated, and the player will move, in one way or another, to where the ball is, no matter where you are in relation to the ball. I mentioned earlier on in the paragraph that the short time span it took to be able to pull off these moves was one of the games most apparent flaws, and it is the simple fact that half of the time your opponent is able to return the ball no matter where he/she is adds up to some annoying experiences, and makes many matches come down to luck rather than skill. Technical players will experience the full brunt of this annoyance.
Animations of the special moves are generally done well. They're long enough to be set apart from the rest of the gameplay, while being short enough to not interfere with the matches flow too much. Although in doubles matches they can become a problem since you will often run into three or four power shots being played in succession. Thankfully if these do irritate you too much they are able to be turned off. Each animation draws influence from the history of that particular character. For example Donkey Kong has a banana boomerang, Mario has his trusty hammer, and Yoshi puts his eggs to good use. Surprisingly enough, for a Nintendo game, these aren't sickeningly cute either. Although there are a couple of exceptions to that rule, Diddy Kong's defensive move which involves his horrible, child scarring grin and giggle make me want to viciously murder him and all his family after seeing it a couple of times. Waluigi's move is equally stupid, turning the court into a pool and then swimming to the ball, although it is nowhere near as painful.
All in all there are three different modes of gameplay. Those being exhibition, tournament, and special games. Exhibition allows you to create custom, one-off matches against who you want on whatever court you want. In exhibition you can choose to play on a standard court, gimmick court, ring court or item battle. Difficulty levels on exhibition matches can be changed to whatever you want, however you'll more than likely find yourself having to put it up to one of the games two highest levels (expert and pro) to get any real challenge. In fact if you put it on the lowest setting the first time you play the game, it is ridiculously easy to win the match without loosing a single point. Tournament though is what youâ€™ll find yourself playing most of the time, and has two sub modes, World Open and Gimmick Masters, each having an array of trophies to win in them including the Flower, Star and Mushroom Cups. Each cup consists of three matches, the first two are unfortunately extremely easy, and it's not unusual to go the whole match without conceding a single point. The final thankfully provides a bit more of a challenge.
And to think, they said this would never come in handy
The World Open is played out on a range of grass, hard and clay courts. Of which you start off only being able to play on the Peach Dome, but as you progress through the tournaments new courts are unlocked. Gimmick courts are much more interesting, albeit a mixed bag in regards to quality. The courts are basically a standard court, but with a massive twist. Each one has a particular feature in it, for example the DK Jungle court features klaptraps that chase you around and if they catch you, slow you down. The playing field on the Glooper Blooper court moves, shrinks and/or expands depending on where you hit the ball and the Luigi's Mansion Court ghosts throw banana peels in your way. Now while these courts are beautifully done, some of them are frankly terrible to play. Just like the power moves can do, some of the gimmicks can detract from the game and you will find yourself having to concentrate too much on whatâ€™s going around you rather than the actual game. The Wario Factory Court is the worst instance of this, as every time the ball is hit a bright light flashes on the screen, making it difficult to follow the ball and the Gooper Blooper Court can get on your nerves just as quickly. It is a shame really, seeing that some of the gimmick courts are excellently done.
Item Battles are executed much more smoothly. In these matches boxes run across the top of the net and upon hitting one of them the player will receive a random item which is then fired the next time they return the ball. Items range from Koopa shells that knock your opponent off balance to Mushrooms that temporarily increase your speed. Ring matches are good for practicing your accuracy and require you to hit the ball through a series of rings.
Lastly Special games are a nice addition, although you won't find yourself playing them a lot. They include games like Artist on the Court, Chain Chomp Challenge and Terror Tennis to name a few. Generally these consist of returning the ball to a particular location, or hitting something, or someone a certain amount of times. Nothing exciting, but they make for a nice add-on.
Visuals in Mario Power Tennis are smooth and easy on the eye. Just as with most Mario titles Nintendo hasn't gone to drop jaws with graphics, instead going for a cartoon feel with a simple colour scheme. Characters have a comical, clean cut look to them and courts, while simplistic are brimming with personality from the ever present Latiku, who has now taken up the position of umpire, to the crowds of Koopas and Piantas jostling about the stadium to the statuesque ball boys who surround the court. The camera is fixed throughout gameplay, although its exact position can be moved slightly. This system is perfect for when you're playing on the closest side of the court, however when you switch over to the opposite side of the court you may find yourself having to focus a lot more on where the ball is in relation to your character, especially if you are one of the unlucky who own a smaller T.V. That said the problem isn't overly apparent, but niggling nonetheless.
Your shoes are untied
In regards to sound the game simply doesn't show enough of it for me to attack it, or for that matter to love it. But then again, when was the last time a traditional Nintendo title showcased large amounts of dialogue. Each character has their own grunts and shouts for in-game play. As well as that the characters spurt out a few lines after they've won or lost a match. Music is rather basic, using the standard Mario themes as well as some newer tunes. Overall the sound doesn't impose, nor retract on the gaming experience. Instead it fits the game adequately in going with the tried and true middle ground.
As good as the single player may be if that's all you use you will not be getting your monies worth, since the most attractive point to Mario Power Tennis is the multiplayer. Just like its predecessor Power Tennis has a hefty load of options when it comes to multiplayer. In fact, every single mode of gameplay is available to be played with your buddies. Up to four players can battle it out in tournament, exhibition (normal, gimmick and item games included) and on the mini-games. In the former two's case both in doubles and singles. It's safe to say that Mario Power Tennis is one of the Cube's best multiplayer titles, and you'll easily run up a few hours playing with your mates without even noticing. For all you party game freaks, this game is for you.
When it comes down to it Mario Power Tennis is nothing fancy, it will not blow you away, but it will entertain you. It has a wide range of characters, courts and options to choose from and serves as an excellent multiplayer title. While some of the gimmick courts and power moves are questionable, they are not bad enough to ruin the otherwise A-grade game. If you were a fan of the N64 Mario Tennis game, or any of Nintendo's other arcade sports titles, you should definitely not miss Mario Power Tennis.