Review: Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash (Wii U)
The clay courts of Roland Garros. The strawberries and cream associated with Wimbledon. The maniacal outbursts of John McEnroe. Tennis is a special sport… and Nintendo know it. Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash revisits familiar territory while still keeping things fresh. It’s a formula that works but still presents new elements for both tennis and Nintendo fans alike.
The most notable evolution to the gameplay can be found in the Chance Shots which were introduced in Mario Tennis Open for the 3DS. The Jump Shot is the most noticeable of these and sees a character take air and smash the ball across the court leaving their opponent with quite a task of returning the shot. These Chance Shots take preference to the attacking and defensive power shots found in the Gamecube’s Mario Power Tennis. The absence of the mini cut-scenes every time a power shot is delivered won’t be missed. These cut- scenes do however raise their head when you acquire Mega Mushrooms in some of the game modes.
I’m in the ‘mode’ for love, 40 – love
The game modes include Mega Battle, Classic Tennis, Knockout Challenge, Mega Ball Rally and Online. While this may seem like a wide variety at first you soon discover that these game modes are far too similar. Previous Mario Tennis title excelled in offering and diversity of game modes, a feature that is sadly lacking in Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. The Mega Battle features Mega Mushrooms which generate at random from the side of the net to your baseline. As you would expect these ‘shrooms grow your character to gargantuan sizes giving them an advantage in both offensive and defensive play. While both opponents can utilise this power up at the same time only one character, per side, can use this during a doubles match. The Classic Tennis mode is a copy of the Mega Battle mode only without the Mega Mushrooms. Nothing more, nothing less. If anything this could have simply been a selection criteria in the Mega Battle mode or vice versa. The Knockout Challenge mode features the same gameplay as the Mega Battle, only that it is presented as a ‘Survival Mode’ dynamic. The opponent difficulty increases with every match as does the reward in coins which can be used as in game currency. The Mega Ball Rally ties you against an opponent at an initial slow paced game. The idea is to keep a rally going for as many shots as possible. This sees you not trying to miss a shot but also not really trying to win either. The online mode is self explanatory and sadly no fun additions have been included other than the use of having a compatible amiibo join you as a doubles partner.
amiibo and more
The use of amiibo in Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash has been cleverly implemented. During the Knockout Challenge you have the option to play alongside an amiibo. This gives you a two on one advantage which comes in handy when your opponents become more challenging. After beating your opponent your amiibo levels up special attributes making their AI more proficient. The same amiibo can then be used in the Online mode as a doubles partner.
As history has shown Mario sport titles are best played in groups. This is especially true this time around as the lack of game modes don’t hold much interest as a single player campaign. This is where the game’s best feature comes into play. When you opt to play against a friend, rather than having them as a doubles partner, there is always the issue of who will be on the opposite side of the court. This can be remedied by split screen play but instead you have the option of utilising the Wii U gamepad as a second screen. One player will always be on the television screen playing along the baseline while the other will have the reverse view on the gamepad. It seems like a little thing but it makes the world of difference.
The coins you acquire throughout the various game modes are used as in-game currency to unlock new characters, courts, difficulty levels and amiibo stats. These unlockables can also be accessed by completing different tasks during different modes. While there aren’t many unlockables the most exciting are easily the different courts which offer some variety to the game. The Ice Court, Bounce-out Court and Morph Court are the first extras you should look at acquiring.
Game, Set, Match
While Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash falls short in offering a variety of game modes it remains fun at its core. The visuals are outstanding, characters are endearing and the framerate on both the TV screen and gamepad hold up perfectly in moments of frantic rallies. The game is well developed, there is no doubt what so ever, but this is sadly tarnished by the lack of game modes seen in previous renditions of the franchise. If you’re looking for an enjoyable couch co-op experience then you can’t go wrong but if you’re after a diverse and engaging tennis outing you may want to look twice before hitting Centre Court.