I have incredibly fond memories of skipping school and going to my house with a group of friends to play Mario Tennis on N64. It wasn’t a once off thing either. We did it nearly every day for a few weeks until we inevitably got caught.
Mario Tennis was so good that we just didn’t care. Hours upon hours were spent squaring off, playing winner stays on and sharpening our tennis skills. I was never a fan of Mario Power Tennis and Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. Neither of them had that je ne sais quoi that Mario Tennis on N64 had.
Thankfully, after some hands-on time with Mario Tennis Aces, I’m happy to report that that old familiar feeling is back with a vengeance.
Mario Tennis Aces Preview
I sat down with Mario Tennis Aces and was treated to an intro video explaining what was going on. Apparently, Wario and Waluigi had discovered an ancient and powerful artefact, known as The Racquet, and tried to wield it.
Obviously, those two idiots weren’t able to and were immediately taken over by the dark power of the object. When they arrive to interrupt a friendly tennis match, Luigi is also taken by the Racquet.
From what I could tell, it looks as though Luigi may be the boss of Mario Tennis Aces. Or at least, a boss. His inherent goodness may have made him a perfect foil for The Racquet, but who can say? I’m sure we’ll learn all about the story shortly.
What I did enjoy were the efforts that have been made to give Mario Tennis Aces and its story mode a proper reason for existing. It’s not just Mario wandering around challenging his mates to a game of tennis. Camelot has given it stakes.
Granted, the stakes are utterly ridiculous, but isn’t that kind of the point? If you’re going to include an adventure mode in a tennis game, you better go all out.
After the brief introduction, I was given control of Mario. The world map is exactly like Super Mario Bros. as you walk from level to level and unlock new paths as you complete them. I jumped into a level that functioned as a tutorial as Dry Bones gave me the skinny on Mario Tennis Aces’ various shots.
As Dry Bones explained backspin, topspin, hooks, slices and lobs, all that old N64 knowledge came flooding back. Mario Tennis Aces plays exactly how I remember Mario Tennis playing. Albeit, much smoother, faster and prettier.
Once I’d easily dispatched Dry Bones, I moved onto another tutorial level which taught me how to aim shots. Functioning as a simple puzzle, I had to perform the correct shot type and aim it at the correct location to proceed.
It was overwhelmingly simple, but I still managed to stuff it up a few times. I’m chalking it up to having to re-learn the mechanics. With the teaching out of the way, I headed into a one-on-one battle with a shadow version of Mario.
I had to defeat him in order to proceed and although I thought I’d learned everything there was to know, Mario Tennis Aces had a few more tricks up its sleeve. To beat shadow Mario I needed to make use of Zone Power, Trick Shots and Power Shots.
Now You’re Playing with Power
Zone Power accrues gradually over the course of a rally and fills a meter alongside your character portrait. By pressing R, you can slow time and enter Zone time so help get to a shot that you’d otherwise miss. This comes in handy when trying to return Power Shots as they’re both fast and damaging to your racquet.
That’s right. In Mario Tennis Aces, your racquet can be damaged and even destroyed by your opponent. Run out of racquets and it’s game over. Racquets can take three hits of damage before they break and you’ll have a supply of racquets available for each match.
Don’t worry, you can wreck their racquets too. How, you ask? Power Shots.
Power Shots, like Zone Time, require you to use Zone Power. Power Shots are activated by stepping into the stars on the court when they appear, such as when your opponent lobs a shot. When you hit R while standing in the star the screen shifts to a first-person perspective with a reticule in the centre of the screen.
By tilting the Pro Controller you can aim your shot. You have a few seconds to decide, but as you wait, the power of the shot decreases. Will you aim it way over to the side of the court or go for your opponent’s racquet and try and smash it?
Power Shots are a really strategic part of Mario Tennis Aces as they’ll use up your Zone Power, but you can force your opponent to do the same if they want to be certain of hitting your shot. Power Shots can be returned without damaging a racquet, but only with perfect timing, which is why Zone Time is so important.
Trick Shots are also hugely important in Mario Tennis Aces but are really risky. You activate a Trick Shot by flicking the right analogue stick in the direction you wish to go or double tapping your shot button and aiming with the left stick.
When you perform a Trick Shot, your character will quickly move into position and if your aim is true, hit the shot back. Mario, for example, does a flip into position, whereas Wario dives forwards onto his stomach.
Trick shots are a great way to return a shot that is otherwise impossible to get. Be careful though, as using a Trick Shot uses up lots of Zone Power.
The final weapon in your Mario Tennis Aces arsenal is the Special Shot. Special Shots can only be activated once the Zone Power gauge is completely full. Special Shots trigger a short cutscene and if successful will destroy your opponent’s racquet regardless of the damage.
Like Power Shots, Special Shots can be blocked and returned, but it’s tricky and you’d better hope you have some Zone Time available.
If all of these special and crazy rules don’t float your boat, not to worry. Mario Tennis Aces comes with a basic rules mode, letting players simply play tennis without worrying about power gauges, special shots or racquet damage.
I only spent about 30 minutes playing Mario Tennis Aces, but I already know just how much I’m going to love it. The quality of the gameplay, visuals and sound is everything you’d expect from Nintendo. The character animations are brilliant and charming and honestly, Nintendo’s reps nearly had to forcibly remove me from playing.
If I had school to skip, I’d be skipping every day to play Mario Tennis Aces.
Mario Tennis Aces launches for Switch on June 22.