“Mario Tennis Aces” is the first sports game since, well, “Mario Kart 8” that’s captivated me. I say that to make it clear that I’m not the sort of person that finds more realistic sports-themed simulations particularly appealing. It’s a question of temperament. With traditional sports games I often find myself measuring the distance between the simulation and reality which leads me to nurse some vague sense of guilt for not venturing outside and kicking a soccer ball around or what have you. By contrast, the aforementioned Mario games, with their manic, cartoony shenanigans, strike me as self-contained dreamscapes that make me think of video games and little else.
Though it may be tempting, and a bit disappointing, to jump straight into “Tennis Aces’ ” online competitive mode, the game features a good single player mode. Of course, its “story” is little more than a breezy setup to justify Mario’s rambles through a land dotted with different tennis challenges. (Essentially, Mario’s brother Luigi brings havoc to the land by accepting a cursed racket as a gift from the malevolent duo Wario and Waluigi.) The stages are clever in their variety. One might have you whacking snowballs at a train full of Shy Guys while in another you’re returning fireballs against a gallery of Piranha Plants. Collectively, these levels do a good job of drilling home the finer points of the game’s mechanics.
Aside from learning your basic slice, lob, drop shot and flat return, it’s essential to keep an eye on the power meter in the upper-left corner. The meter builds up following successful rallies and scoring. Juicing up power allows you to use Zone Speed to dash around the court faster and to slow down the movement of an incoming ball. Sometimes, as your power meter charges, a star-shaped spot will appear on the court as the ball is sailing in your direction. Hurrying to that spot allows you to perform a Zone Shot where the camera switches to a first-person perspective allowing you to briefly line up a volley. (The window of opportunity is contingent on the relative level of the power gauge.)
After making my way through a significant amount of the adventure mode, I was eager to try my luck against other human players. Alas, most of the matches I played were afflicted with rampant lag which led me to battle the frame rate as much as my opponent. Before a match starts you can see the strength of your opponent’s signal. Though I played most of the game in dock mode with my console resting close to my router, I have yet to have a match where the frame rate remained steady throughout. (In any case, I like the game enough that I plan on picking up a USB-Ethernet adapter so that I can see if a wired connection fixes my issue.)
One thing that has miffed some of the more enthusiastic players is that currently there is no option to adjust the number of games it takes to win. As it stands, players need to win only two of three games to win a match. Personally, I enjoy the fast pace of this setup but I understand why some may wish that they could tweak a setting to opt for something that more closely resembles a full tennis match.
Assuming my connectivity issues are not reflective of the overall quality of the “Mario Tennis Aces’ ” netcode, and instead the result of some combination of bad luck and my own sometimes sketchy router, I imagine that it will be one of my preferred little distractions for the summer. Fingers crossed.
Recent game reviews: