If you’ve been holding your breath for another Nintendo sports RPG à la 2005 GBA tour de force Mario Tennis: Power Tour… well, you’ve probably long since passed out from lack of oxygen. If you’re just coming too, though, I have some news. First, there have been some rather alarming developments in national and global politics. Second, Mario Tennis Aces arrives this week on Nintendo’s new handheld/console hybrid the Switch, and it’s exactly what you’ve been waiting for—with a few caveats.
Like its predecessors on the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance, Aces was developed by Tokyo’s Camelot Software Planning. This means the title has the advantage of that trademark pedigree, not to mention the inclusion of a certain mustachioed miscreant as a playable character. (Unlike other big-name Switch titles—cough—Super Smash Bros. Ultimate—cough.)
As such, Mario Tennis Aces includes a core Adventure Mode, a single-player RPG-lite in which you face enemies and confront challenges, all of which can only be conquered via your superior tennis moves. (Naturally!) You’ll explore the Kingdom of Bask as Mario, rather than a new human player character, progressing through missions, collecting gear, and facing challenging bosses all along the way.
This is a perfect introduction to Aces‘ gameplay, and you’ll be forced to hone your skills quickly, as the game never seems to pull any punches. I mention this specifically because I tended to fail often early in the game against opponents like illusionary magic mirrors and (hallucinatory?) glowing orbs until I was able to master the subtle intricacies of the lob and drop shot.
More advanced techniques like the powerful Charge Shot and the location-specific Star Shot were simple enough to grasp, but the game’s bread and butter—that being a trio of shot mechanics strongly tied to Mario’s slowly-building energy gauge—always seem to come off with a nail-biting intensity, no matter how sure you are of your Mario Tennis skillset.
The Trick Shot, executed by tapping the right control stick in the direction of a distant and glowing Star Shot location, flips Mario into position to deliver a fierce return at the expense a modicum of energy—or, if your timing is off, an all-important point. The Zone Shot allows you to pinpoint a specific area on your opponent’s side of the court using motion controls, the catch being a troubling aiming reticle that burns through your stored energy at an alarming rate.
You can use your Zone Shot in two distinct ways. You can place the ball inconveniently far away from your opponent, making it difficult to reach, or you can fire this powerful shot directly at your rival. A perfectly timed return can rob you of an otherwise easy point, but anything less will damage your opponent’s racket, with three such crushing blows breaking their equipment.
The true haymaker, however, is the Special Shot. With a full energy gauge, Mario can execute an over-the-top, super-charged move that can again whiz by your opponent or damage his racket. The game’s Tournament Mode—divided into increasingly difficult cups much like Mario Kart—gives you the opportunity to explore the differing Specials and overall play styles of 15+ competitors, including the aforementioned Waluigi (a defensive mastermind and personal favorite).
For the more active among you, Swing Mode challenges you to swing your Joy-Con like the racket itself, complete with forehand, backhand, and slice. This, along with the dedicated multiplayer Free Play Mode, helps to further flesh out what is otherwise a solid single-player experience, making Super Mario Aces both a big sharable console game and an intense portable solo sports RPG for Mario Tennis purists.
In the end, Mario Tennis Aces isn’t exactly the sort of dedicated old-school sports RPG fans have continued to long for on the Nintendo’s stellar portables. (For that, I’d recommend 2017’s faux-16-bit eShop release Golf Story.) But what it is instead is a fun, beautiful, well-rounded arcade sports offering. Adventure Mode delivers the character development and challenging story for gamers like me, Swing Mode proves an intuitive and simplified experience for Mario Tennis newbies, and Tournament Mode and multiplayer options exist to scratch the competitive itch of those hardcore Smash Bros. and Mario Kart players.
To put it another way, no game can be all things to all people, but Mario Tennis Aces certainly does an admirable job of trying.
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America