Mario Tennis Aces is a very good game, but a few rough edges stop it becoming a grand slam champion.
The history of Camelot’s Mario Tennis games is as colourful as John McEnroe’s vocabulary. The charming Game Boy and GBA iterations remain the most admired, with their enjoyable mix of arcade antics and role-playing narratives striking the right balance of on-court action and Nintendo whimsy.
Since then the series has had its aces and faults, with Mario Tennis Open on 3DS being another highlight, and the threadbare Mario Tennis Ultra Smash on Wii U, the nadir.
Anticipation for Mario Tennis Aces on Nintendo Switch was high, with fans of the series excited by the prospect of a revamped move set, and the inclusion of an RPG-like adventure mode. The response since release, however, has been mixed. Some players don’t appreciate the shortened match structure – but seem fine with having three Piranha Plants on court – and others have not been impressed by the whacky, fantasy-fuelled storyline that sees Luigi possessed by a ghostly tennis racket. My issues with the game lie elsewhere.
Mario Tennis Aces is one of the most infuriating Nintendo releases in some time. Not because it’s crap, but because it comes so close to being an all-time great, only for some really silly little things to let it down.
First off, let me let me be clear: it’s a very good game. It gets the basics just right. The tennis matches are phenomenal. It has tight controls, precise movement, and a flexible range of shots that work in harmony to make each match ebb and flow as the upper-hand shifts from one player to the other.
The new Zone Shot power move – and its Zone Speed defence move – are initially hard to grasp, but once mastered they quickly become an integral and satisfying element of every match. I’m not the first to say that Mario Tennis Aces can feel like a fighting game, but it’s an appropriate comparison.
It’s all the more frustrating, then, to find the game let down some by some seemingly innocuous problems that would normally be polished away by Nintendo’s customary attention to detail.
So here are six things that stop Mario Tennis Aces becoming an all-time great.
1. The soundtrack
The music in Mario Tennis Aces make Toad’s voice sound positively seductive. It’s relentless. It’s not just upbeat, it’s like being trapped overnight in an early ‘90s discotheque, and force-fed hi-NRG game show theme tunes. The music loops and loops and loops, and, combined with the game’s overall difficulty, creates a real sweaty-palmed feeling of anxiety. The game’s best tunes are in fact saved for when you lose, with a slow jazz number offering a brief moment of respite.
2. Slow restarts and unskippable cutscenes
In 2018 there can be no excuse for waiting the best part of a minute to restart a mini-game you’ve just lost. But that’s what happens in Mario Tennis Aces. If you fail one of the Adventure Mode missions – which can happen quickly and frequently – you are treated to Mario and Toad musing on their defeat before having to select and load the mission once again. The loading I can accept, but non-skippable dialogue scenes in the wake of every single failure are real mood killer.
3. Lack of player statistics
Unlike other similar Nintendo games – Mario Kart 8 being the obvious example – Mario Tennis Aces does a terrible job of tracking progress. It would be really nice, for example, if the game simply recorded the number matches played, along with wins, losses, and the total numbers of successful trick shots. The complexity of the game means there are a wealth of things that could be measured, and it would nice to have a ongoing record of my abilities and achievements, even it would likely be a sobering read.
4. Boss timers
Mario Tennis Aces has a steep learning curve, which can be unforgiving as you get your head around the game’s moves and special shots. The addition of timers to boss fights feels unnecessarily cruel, upping the challenge not through gameplay but through an arbitrarily applied countdown that artificially ratchets the difficulty.
5. A lack of single-player tournaments
With Adventure Mode being a relatively slender excursion, much of your time with Mario Tennis Aces will be spent playing multiplayer, or working through the single player tournaments. So why are there only three of them? The Mushroom, Flower, and Star cups escalate in difficulty, but aside from repeating each one with a different character, there’s nothing here to tempt the player back.
6. Online match-making
A perennial problem with Nintendo’s online games is the free-for-all nature of its online match-making. Mario Tennis Aces is a tougher game than most, and as rookie, being thrown in against a succession of players who have super high point totals, and who have mastered the intricacies of each character, is frustrating and disheartening.
Despite these grumbles, Mario Tennis Aces is still thoroughly recommended. Adventure Mode can be unfairly tough at times, but in local and online multiplayer – and assuming you don’t mind replaying the same single player championship tournaments repeatedly – it offers a thrilling arcade sports experience.
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