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Mario Tennis Open (3DS) artwork

Mario Tennis Open (3DS) review

"While you play, your view of the action shifts between two perspectives depending on how you hold the 3DS. If you hold the system in a roughly vertical position, the 3D effect is eliminated and the action is presented from a perspective that lies low against the court, almost behind the players. This allows you to aim serves by swinging the unit left or right. If you hold the system horizontally in your lap, the 3D effect returns."

Sometimes, no matter how much a game franchise initially has going for it, the magic fades. Mario Tennis Open is a good example of that principle in action. Mario Tennis was a simple delight when it arrived on the Nintendo 64 in 2000, but the passage of time has not been kind. Twelve years later, the simple core design that once felt so fresh has turned stale and the apparent efforts to keep things interesting with new design elements have only made matters worse.

The first problematic design tweak is the new touch screen control system, which at least can be ignored if you donít like it. The benefit is that you can touch the 3DS unitís lower screen instead of pressing face buttons. If you played Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition when the 3DS launched, you should have a good idea how it works. The screen is divided into large quadrants and you swipe the appropriate portion when serving or returning the ball. If one configuration doesnít work for you, itís easy to switch to a different one until you find a comfortable fit, but the whole approach feels counter-intuitive if youíve grown accustomed to more conventional methods.

Mario Tennis Open asset

The second design decision is more distressing because you canít easily ignore it. While you play, your view of the action shifts between two perspectives depending on how you hold the 3DS. If you hold the system in a roughly vertical position, the 3D effect is eliminated and the action is presented from a perspective that lies low against the court, almost behind the players. This allows you to aim serves by swinging the unit left or right. If you hold the system horizontally in your lap, the 3D effect returns and you see the action from a birdís-eye view that makes it easier to play tennis effectively. If you tend to move around a lot while you play handheld games, then, prepare for some distracting shifts throughout matches. Potential problems become even more pronounced if you tend to lift the 3DS up close to your face when things get intense--the better to play effectively--because that inevitably causes everything to shift at the worst possible moment and the game becomes unintentionally difficult as a result.

When you first start playing, you might wonder if ďdifficultĒ will even enter the equation. Early on, your opponents are almost insultingly easy thanks to the gameís third major concession to its 2012 audience: on-screen indicators that let you know precisely where to position yourself in order to produce the best hits. The guesswork is gone. All that you must do is move swiftly to those marked positions, then start charging up a hit while you wait for the ball to arrive. When the ball gets close, youíll return it with a vengeance and your opponent will almost always be unable to retaliate. Youíll likely steamroll the competition throughout the first three tournament cups, and then your opponents will abruptly switch from incompetent ninnies to merciless rivals who seem to have no trouble covering their entire court all at once. Youíre clearly supposed to continue using the stars to inform your play and to respond with just the right type of hit, but the process begins to feel more like rock-paper-scissors than tennis.

If the AI gets on your nerves, at least Mario Tennis Open provides a number of ways to play. Even if your friends donít own a separate copy of the game, you can host a room and they can play against you locally via Download Play. Or if you prefer, you can head online and find opponents from around the world, though that can be a humbling experience if you havenít spent a lot of time practicing in the gameís single-player modes. To that end, there also is an available selection of Special Games that you can play alone as a sort of virtual training ground. Doing so is a great way to earn virtual coins so that you can buy a bunch of different costume pieces for your playable Mii character (including gear that improves stats when equipped), plus some of the available selections are actually quite cool even without that incentive.

Mario Tennis Open asset

Ring Shot should be familiar to Mario Tennis veterans. You play with a computer-controlled partner, on opposite sides of a court where golden rings materialize in the air and then start to expand. You take turns volleying the ball back and forth across the net and trying to make sure that it passes through enough rings to reach a certain score before the timer expires. Playing close to the net is risky because itís easier to lose control of things, but your points earned at that point also are more significant. The higher stages get quite frantic, but itís good fun and it feels good to have the AI work as your ally for once.

Super Mario Tennis is another available mode, and itís actually quite unique. You play alone, hitting the ball toward a mural in the background that essentially serves as a large television screen. A remixed version of Super Mario Bros. unfolds and you can hit the tennis ball against the animated backdrop to collect power-ups, squish enemies, warp down pipes and so forth. As neat as that is, though, the amount of movement that you have to attract can become a bit much. Itís too easy to lose the ball in the background for a split-second, and itís also rather difficult to actually hit targets that you might want to strike without putting yourself at risk on the rebound. Since you only have three balls available, the game has a tendency to end before you reach the end of a stage, which is disappointing. Practice helps, but the mode still is more frustrating than most would probably consider ideal.

Galaxy Rally is another option, and most closely resembles Ring Shot. You hit the ball toward an animated Shine character (like those featured in Super Mario Galaxy) and it returns the ball. Your job is to keep that exchange going without letting the ball fall into gaps that appear on the opposite side of the court, plus you can collect star pieces to assemble a bonus star that you can hit for coins. Itís fairly enjoyable, though later levels grow more challenging as holes start appearing more frequently and in positions that are more difficult to avoid.

Mario Tennis Open asset

Finally, the last of the bonus games is Ink Showdown, which places you on a court as you square off against an AI component who is surrounded by pipes with piranha plants. Those plants spit ink at you, which you must swat out of the way (so they donít block your view on the screen) and also tennis balls. Your job is to return the balls so that your dimwitted computer opponent doesnít manage to hit them. On lower difficulty settings, thatís fairly easy, but it grows more complex as your opponent gets more capable and the piranha plants keep you increasingly busy returning serves and ink.

Mario Tennis Open isnít a bad game, but it also doesnít offer a lot of the depth you might expect from a $40 game. A slew of unlockable content gives you reason to keep playing and collecting, plus online play could keep you busy for hours, but some of the design decisions hurt the experience more than they helped it. Definitely give the game a look if you really love tennis, but otherwise you might have better luck with one of Marioís other 3DS outings.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (May 30, 2012)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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jerec posted May 30, 2012:

This is disappointing. Pretty much everyone is giving this game a score around 5 or 6. I was really hoping it'd be a decent game for my 3DS, but that's one flagship title I'm going to have to skip.

Great review, which outlines the design problems with this game.
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honestgamer posted May 30, 2012:

Thanks for reading, Jerec. This review took some time to pull together, and I reorganized things a bit from how they were originally set up, too. It just didn't want to let me write it! I hated having to give the game a score as low as I did, too, because I wanted the game to be awesome... but it really wasn't. I would probably recommend picking it up once/if the price drops, but for now it's probably best avoided (as noted in the review). I'm glad I was able to cover all the bases the way I did. The review is longer than I intended, but I don't feel like it dragged. I'm pretty happy with it overall, after all the work that went into it, and I'm glad you found it helpful.

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