Also available on: N/A Developer:Camelot Publisher: Nintendo Genre: Sports
Camelot has an excellent track record when it comes to handheld Mario sports titles. Mario Golf and Mario Tennis both turned out to be engrossing and surprisingly deep experiences on the Game Boy Colour and Game Boy Advance, fusing traditional sports gameplay with RPG elements and a story mode.
Mario Tennis Open on the Nintendo 3DS is the latest Mario tennis spinoff, but in an interesting move, the game does away with the satisfying character progression seen in its predecessors. Instead, it chooses to rely on the core gameplay as players advance through a linear series of progressively tougher singles or doubles tournaments.
The usual cast of Mario characters are available, each one slightly differing in style. While Mario and Luigi are all-rounders, for example, Yoshi and Diddy Kong have the edge in speed. Players can also use their own Mii, and kit them out with gear unlocked and bought by competing in matches and indulging in mini-games. Clothing and racquets boost different stats, and though there is no easy way to compare two items, this level of customisation is welcome.
There are three different control methods, the most traditional of which involves using the face buttons to hit the ball. Naturally, your player can hit flat, top spin or slice shots as well as lobbing or executing a drop shot with the different buttons. Alternatively, you can use the touch screen, which is divided into a number of sections that can be touched, each one representing their respective shot type.
The third method utilises the gyro sensor. By holding the 3DS upright, the game shifts to a zoomed-in camera angle behind your player. Though you still hit your shots using the buttons or the touch screen, you aim by angling the 3DS. Movement is automatically taken care of for you as the player runs to what the game perceives to be the optimal place to stand, though this can be overridden if you desire with the control stick.
On one hand, the gyro sensor may help to make the game more accessible. But on the other, the way you hold the handheld device is awkward, control feels more limited and the camera angle is less than ideal for playing a competitive match as you do not get to see the whole court.
Camelot has spiced the tennis up a little by adding 'Chance Areas'. By running to a specific and marked-out spot on the court and executing a specific shot, your character will hit a more powerful version of that shot - for example, sliced returns will come with a wicked bending curve, and drop shots will barely make it over the net. These will usually end up as winners if the opponent is badly positioned (or against poor AI), but even if they get to the ball, they could become staggered by the hit giving you an advantage in the rally.
The gameplay itself is competent if not particularly deep. It's easy to pick up and play, and even the Chance Areas can be made extremely easy as one button will automatically nail it for you. The tennis is also grounded in reality a little more than some of the craziness in 2005's Mario Tennis: Power Tour on Game Boy Advance.
Sadly, the single-player is lacklustre for two major reasons. Firstly, the format is highly repetitive - win one tournament, and you unlock the next one. The eight tournaments are disappointingly similar, both in their setup (they're all brackets of eight) and the various courts themselves. Colourful as they may be, the courts barely impact the way the match is played out. Grass or clay, there is no reason whatsoever to alter your playing style.
And then you have the AI opponents. For the vast majority of the game, they take little effort to defeat. Furthermore, despite each character's different strengths, opponents lack any real discernible difference between each other. They play similarly and there's not enough to stop each match from feeling samey. As matches become longer as a result of an increased number of sets, Mario Tennis Open quickly loses its initial audiovisual charm as you drift off into auto-pilot.
Mario Tennis Open also comes with four mini-games that are a little hit-or-miss. 'Super Mario Tennis' is the most interesting one, even if it's not necessarily the most fun to play, as you play the first four levels of Super Mario Bros. with the tennis ball as Mario. Hitting goombas and question blocks with your shots is pretty neat. 'Ring Shot' is probably the most enjoyable as you're mixing up your shots to hit the ball through rings to rack up points, though the other two are a letdown.
Local and online multiplayer are both included with the game, and they work as intended. Competing against fellow humans is where the title shines, not held back by the dull AI. However, playing locally with friends is definitely the way to go with the rather barebone and limited options available online.
The mechanics of Mario Tennis Open are fine and should have been the base for another excellent handheld Mario Tennis spinoff. However, aside from a few bright spots, everything surrounding the tennis feels uninspired and in particular those looking for a solid single-player experience will quickly grow bored.