Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash Preview: Sampras-ive!


Last week, I was invited to a preview event in Toronto where Nintendo was showcasing some of their upcoming Wii U and Nintendo 3DS titles. I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts and impressions of these games in preview pieces throughout the week. Monday kicked off the week with Yoshi’s Woolly World, and today we continue with Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash.

Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64 was way too excellent for its own good. On paper, it seemed like a simple Nintendo cash-in that supplanted Tennis superstars with Nintendo characters. It was much more than that, as its arcadey gameplay mechanics toed the line between creative ingenuity and superfluous style to make it a must-play for couch co-op. Thankfully, for the first time in over a decade, the experience has been brought back to consoles, as Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash looks to tweak a solid formula, that’s done right by the company, ever so slightly.

Mega Mario Mashes In Mario Tennis

I spent a fair bit more time with Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash than I did playing other games at the preview event. People who were waiting in line to play Super Smash Bros. for Wii U matches were missing out on the real star of competitive play, as the relative fresh experience everyone had from moment zero led to some real discovery.

For the most part, tennis play sticks close series standard, although new control mechanics are introduced. You press A to get your topspin shots, B to slice the ball, you have your smash shots and your drop shots to have your opponents second-guessing. It’s in the Mega Mushroom that randomly appears in the “Mega Battles” option that brings a new look into tennis play.

Playing big has its pros and cons. The pros are mostly just related to how huge your Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash characters are. They can reach a lot more shots, put more power into a return and have your opponent(s) running around the court a lot more. When it comes to cons, not only does the mode start stretching out the length of games (points) as more volleys are returned, but the sudden jump back to normal size can mean trouble for lining up your shots. It’s the price you pay for powering up.

Thankfully, the mode isn’t mandatory, meaning you can play both singles and doubles without the aid of performance enhancing mushrooms. What does come standard, now, is jump shots. They see characters jump up towards heavy hits and seeing the ball take a pronounced bounce. They allow characters to reach shots they might not otherwise reach, but at the price of a more open return smash.

More Of The Same

As I previously mentioned, sticking with the same formula and expanding upon it seems to be doing well for Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. While the length of games may be extended due to more opportunities to play racket to ball (possibly upsetting the pace of a full tennis match), utilizing all the tools at your disposal plays more of a factor.

Whether it be a fully-fleshed title or barebones game, there’s a solid foundation to work upon…

People who tend to disrespect the slice will surely look foolish when an excellent hit curves around even their mushroom-aided bodies, resulting in cartoonish whiffs. At the same time, a hard smash off the serve may be damn near impossible to return. Those trying to make all the plays near the back of the wall will look silly running in and failing to return a drop shop. On the reverse side, those staying up front at the net will be making mad dashes back should a well-placed lob shot curve over to the back near the baseline. You can play just one style, but mixing them all works wonders and keeps your opponents guessing.

I still look forward to Nintendo sharing more details about Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. For one, the previous Nintendo 3DS entry in the series had online multiplayer. Playing both 1v1 and 2v2 online, either with couch co-op versus online or 3 online players, would do best to replicate a virtual tennis meetup. Secondly, I would like for Nintendo to clarify the scope of the game. All I’m seeing from key documentation about Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is that it is a “multiplayer game.” Does that mean there’s no single-player campaign? Will all characters be unlocked from the start? Will we see some sort of custom equipment scheme, one that includes stat variables?

Looking Forward

More from Previews

At a glorious 60 frames per second, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash takes what you’ve come to know about Mario Tennis and make it perform better. Whether it be in more fluid character animations, adapted ball physics, updated gameplay mechanics or visual fidelity, there’s a lot to like after just a brief amount of time checking it out. The game’s pricing is TBD, but hopefully Nintendo places this niche sports title under an appropriate MSRP to get it to all fans of the sport on the Wii U. Whether it be a fully-fleshed title or barebones game, there’s a solid foundation to work upon, and has me excited to see what Nintendo does with it next.

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