Nintendo released a Mario Tennis Aces Demo Tournament this weekend and I played it to death. I really had no interest in this title but it has won me over. I figured that it would be limited and fairly shallow but I am happy to report how wrong I was.
Mario Tennis Aces is a surprisingly deep arcade tennis sim. It’s an easy game to pick up and understand but I found as I progressed into the later rounds of the online tournament the pace picks up significantly and mistakes are punished ruthlessly.
Each character has a topspin, slice, curve and drop/lob shot meaning there is no need to “learn” how to control a character outside of the labels they have like Speedy, Powerful, Tricky and such. Rosalina is OP, I had a great time beating people with her insane slice shot. I would imagine that will be balanced out on full release.
Everybody’s special move is mapped to the same button, nice and easy. The depth comes from putting it all together.
This is the most important thing to keep an eye on in Mario Tennis Aces. Think of it like the circle closing in on PUBG and Fortnite. Each shot can be ‘charged’ up before connecting with the ball by holding down a shot button. Charged shots help to fill up the energy meter but pulling off a charged shot means being in the correct position on the court. You cannot charge up a shot while running to return the ball. The best players will spot the patterns of their opponent and be in position to return the ball with a charged shot, this means they will fill their energy meter faster.
This energy meter affords the player some nice perks. Having a near full meter allows you to hit the ball harder in charged shots. Tapping the R button with enough energy stops time briefly as your character flies into the air to deliver a targeted Zone Shot. Holding R essentially gives you bullet time so you can catch up with a wayward ball.
Energy also allows you to save your bacon when a shot is out of reach by flicking the right stick. This slows down time slightly to allow your character to return a ball when it was most certainly gone. They call it a ‘Trick Shot’ when in fact it should be called the “Oh Shit Shit Shit Shit Shi-ohh I got it, phew” shot but I guess Nintendo can’t use such course language in a family friendly tennis romp.
You can use energy in all of the various ways above as a means of strategy or to pick up points in games you may be outmatched in. However, saving the energy up to fill the meter gives you the special shot.
The Special is basically a killshot. Pressing the L button (even if you are nowhere near the ball) triggers a nice little animation before sending a ball over to the other side of the court with the power, fury and speed of a tank blast. It can be used to win games, it can be used to keep you in games and it’s almost unstoppable…almost.
The Special Shot can be stopped by your opponent if they also trigger a special shot. When they do the ball will be returned, every time. The return of a Special does not come back to you the way you sent it over, so that is a nice touch. It will come back as a normal shot so there is a nice little strategy there when deciding when to use it and when to keep it in the holster.
The Special Shot can also be countered by using the bullet time type feature mentioned earlier. However I really wouldn’t recommend it unless you have no other option or it’s a match saving moment. When you use this feature your energy will start to deplete and you must get the timing of the shot right or it will break your racket.
Each game starts with you having two rackets. Racket strength will break if you return lots of powerful shots. If you break both rackets it’s a knockout and insta-win for your opponent. Do you really want to use one up on returning a special if the game does not depend on it? Conversely, in games where I was clearly the weaker player it became a strategy. “The only way I can win this is to break his rackets” and I had some success in that regard.
Mario Tennis Aces is released on June 22nd. I really had no interest in it until playing this online demo. I wish more publishers would do this for games that seem limited but have a nice amount of depth and strategy to them. I’m looking forward to jumping back into the online tournaments to finally get a win. I played in several semi-final matches but couldn’t make it to the big one, I have some unfinished business.
I can see this being a great multiplayer game for people of all skill levels, absolutely perfect for Switch. There is also the Adventure Mode that will be available in the full version. It seems like Mario will have lots of Tennis related challenges to overcome on his way to the goal, which I assume is saving Peach again. Luckily for Mario he had a Tennis Racket with him that day.