'Mario Tennis Aces' Review: New Mechanics Make This The Most Hardcore In The Series

8/10 (Switch)

Mario Tennis is my favorite of the Mario-style sports games. Each iteration of the series has brought a ton of fun gameplay and mixed it with some over-the-top action. Even when the franchise was at its lowest (Ultra Smash) the gameplay was still some of the best in the franchise and easy to pick up.

Mario Tennis Aces, the series Nintendo Switch debut, looks to change things up. Not only is a new story mode included, but the mechanics and gameplay are more akin to a fighting game than a sports game. But do the changes make for a better experience?

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Trick Shots are important in 'Mario Tennis Aces' Nintendo

NEW MECHANICS/GAMEPLAY

Every addition to the Mario Tennis series has evolved the gameplay in some way, but Mario Tennis Aces amps up the action and the intensity to a new level.

There are still the three different shot types (slice, top spin, flat) and players can still perform lobs and drops that cause your opponent to frantically run around the court to hit the ball, but the new mechanics are where things get interesting.

Every player has a charge meter in Mario Tennis Aces that can be filled three different ways. Charge up your shot as you wait for the ball to reach you, perform Trick Shots or block your opponent's Zone Shots (we'll get to those in a bit) to fill up your energy meter even faster.

So what's the purpose of the meter? To perform the aforementioned Zone Shots and Special Shots. These shots unleash powerful hits with impressive aim. Players can also slow down time to catch up to balls they normally wouldn't reach or increase their chances to block them. However, using the slow down quickly depletes the charge on your meter, so you'll need to use it sparingly.

Trick Shots are another new mechanic that can help players defend hard-to-reach shots while also charging up the energy meter. By simply flicking the right analog stick, players can flip, slide or glide to the ball from a good distance away. However, timing is key. Perform it too late and you'll miss; perform it too early and you'll damage your racket. It's an invaluable tool as it works as a defensive measure while also catching your opponent off guard.

Zone and Special Shots may seem unbeatable, but players can learn to block these over-the-top shots by swinging the racket just as the ball just is about to hit them. It requires pinpoint timing so using the slow down is a great way to position yourself and strike the ball at just the right moment. This is probably the hardest mechanic to master, but with time and hard work anyone can get the timing down.

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Zone Shots allows players to unleash powerful and accurate shots Nintendo

Another new mechanic during matches are the vulnerability of rackets. Each racket can be weakened if a player performs a Trick Shot too early or misses the timing of a block attempt. Each racket breaks after only a few of these miscues, and if a player runs out of rackets they lose the match automatically no matter the score. It's an interesting wrinkle the game adds to matches and gives players another thing to think about. Should a player go for a block and risk breaking a racket or just let it pass?

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Rackets can break in 'Mario Tennis Aces' so be careful Nintendo

The meter is the most important aspect in Mario Tennis Aces and makes each match feel like a fighting game. It shifts the emphasis on placement and how well you strike the ball to how fast you can charge your meter and when and how you use it.

Admittedly, these new mechanics are very daunting and complicated. Mario Tennis went from learning maybe five inputs to now having to master up to 10. Thankfully, the online tournament demo released prior helped me gain a better understanding of the mechanics before the official release, but it's the Adventure Mode that really deserves praise for teaching me how to actually play.

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Spirits have taken over Wario, Waluigi and Mario's brother Luigi in 'Mario Tennis Aces' Nintendo

ADVENTURE MODE

The Adventure Mode, which is Mario Tennis Aces' story mode, is simple in its storytelling but is a must for anyone trying to master all the new mechanics. The story follows an ancient tennis racket that has taken control of Luigi, Wario and Waluigi and looks to rule the world by gathering the five Power Stones. It's up to Mario to go around the island and find them before they do, but there are Bosses and other obstacles in his way.

What makes the Adventure Mode fun is that it gives players different ways to play. There are normal matches, but then you'll enter a minigame where you need to use your shot accuracy to hit enemies, keep a rally going or others fun ways to play.

An RPG element is added to the Adventure Mode that lets Mario level up and increase stats. This is mostly used to help players who can't seem to defeat a particular stage overpower or outmaneuver an opponent. Outside of that, the RPG elements don't really factor into the game mode as it's ultimately up to your skill with using the new mechanics that completes the story.

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The stat screen in 'Mario Tennis Aces' Nintendo

Boss battles are really fun. Although defeating each Boss is the same, hitting a Zone Shot into an exposed area, each has a different attack and the time limits for drawn out battles really brings a sense of intensity.

LACK OF GAME MODES/QUESTIONABLE DECISIONS

Outside of the Adventure Mode, Mario Tennis Aces doesn't offer too much in terms of game modes and content. There is a Swing mode that allows players to use the joy con like a tennis racket and there is local and online play.

The Online Tournament mode is great and is exactly like the demo. However, if you or your opponent's connection isn't strong enough it's almost unplayable. The promise of online tournaments to unlock new characters is intriguing, but until it's implemented in July it's hard to tell how successful they will be.

Simple Mode is there if the new mechanics are just too hard or not your thing, and is a great way for younger gamers to jump in. But once the Adventure Mode is complete, there's not much to do if you're not into online play.

There's no unlockable characters (although stages do get unlocked in Adventure Mode) for doing certain tasks and the minigames you experience during the story can't be played with friends.

There are other questionable decisions like not being able to change the length of matches beyond a best of three set format. Although matches can take up to 15 minutes to play, and I assume Nintendo wanted online matches to go as quickly as possible, not having the option for a best of five set match in offline modes is … interesting.

You also can't choose the stage in offline modes. In one way it keeps players on their toes as they play on various terrains and against obstacles, but it just seems silly to not have the option to choose.

VERDICT

Overall, the core mechanics of Mario Tennis Aces are the most competitive and tense in the series. While not kid-friendly, its complexity makes for more strategic and intense matches. Adventure Mode is a great learning tool and a must for anyone trying to master the new mechanics.

The lack of game modes, and just things to do in general, is a bit underwhelming but when the online connection works matches are great. And the possibility of content and updates, like the online tournaments, should keep players occupied for a long time.

Despite its shortcomings, the mechanics of Mario Tennis Aces makes up for it with the most stylish and hardcore gameplay in the series' history.

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