Tennis isn’t a very Nintendo sport. It’s an old game with excellent, easily comprehendible rules and many opportunities for personal drama. Tennis as a pastime though is plagued by elitism. It is played by and for the wealthy. Mario is a plumber for crying out loud, and his adventures are populist fare! All of his games are deep commentaries on wealth and class! They’re all about a working stiff with a tremendous vertical leap rescuing incompetent royalty from foreign aggressors. The guy’s just not the type you’d expect on the court or adept with a racket. He is though. Mario is an excellent tennis player and Mario Tennis Open, while not a riveting commentary on class warfare, happens to be pretty good too. It is perfectly populist Nintendo fare, but it only does a yeoman’s job of crafting a complete experience.
The tennis itself is a little bit different than it is on real world courts. In volleys, multicolored icons will appear where the ball is going to land, each color corresponding to one type of shot. A glowing white ghost icon for example will power up a drop shot provided you’re in the circle, and the ball will stop almost immediately where it lands if you pull it off. The courts vary as well, with hardtop and clay courts joined by ice courts, so timing the perfect shot is about chance and understanding your environment. These powered up returns and courts give Open its Super Mario flavor, that pleasant mix of the mundane and the spectacular that marks every game starring the mustachioed fella.
The Mushroom Kingdom’s usual suspects are present to compete in the game’s series of tennis tournaments. Mario, Luigi, the princesses, Bowser, and newcomers like Boo are all available to control on the court, and much like in their other sporting adventures—Mario Kart, Super Mario Strikers, etc.—their skills vary. Boo puts unbelievable spin on the ball while Wario’s got a mean power swing. In a new twist, you can also take your Mii on the court, and your personal avatar is a bit more malleable. There’s a pro shop in the game where you can purchase new rackets and outfits that change your stats.
Accessing more and more goods for your Mii is the raison d’etre for the game’s single-player modes. Playing through the multiple tiers of tournaments in both singles and doubles matches will unlock new items for purchase in the stores. This is an irritation though, as playing matches doesn’t earn you the coins needed to get that new pair of Fire Flower shoes.
Those coins are by playing mini games. You’ve got to work to get paid, and unfortunately most of the mini games in Open are about as fun as plumbing. While Ring Shot, where you have to aim the ball through randomly appearing rings on the court, is decent fun and good for improving your ball handling, the other three are chores. Super Mario Tennis sounds like a great idea on the surface: You’re batting the ball against a wall that’s scrolling through stages of the original Super Mario Bros. but it’s more awkward in execution than fun. Galaxy Rally is downright hard to follow. You’re batting the ball back toward disappearing platforms while also trying to collect pieces of a star for coins, but the ball can literally disappear in all the glitter and motion on the other side of the court.
The tennis is so much goofy fun that it’s a shame playing the side games is the only effective way to unlock new gear. The new gear isn’t essential to be competitive, against either the unusually cunning opponents in top tier tournaments or against real people online, but it certainly helps.
Mario Tennis Open is developer Camelot’s fifth Mario Tennis game, and much like past entries, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to just pick up and play. It isn’t hampered by the snottiness of real world tennis, it’s just inviting and colorful. Even the janky mini games don’t sully Open’s good time. It’s hard not to feel like this 3DS outing is lacking compared to past entries like Mario Tennis on Game Boy Color. That game packaged single player matches and character growth in an RPG-style story mode. While Mario Tennis Open’s disparate parts work well, some more than others, it’s missing something to make it all hang together as a cohesive whole. Unlike its star, Mario Tennis Open is a workhorse and not a craftsman.
Score: 6.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS on a copy provided by Nintendo)