Developer: Camelot Software Planning
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: November 20, 2015
Developers Camelot Software Planning are Nintendo’s de facto golf and tennis game wing of the company. Since 1999, outside of the Golden Sun games, all they have done is build upon their previous iterations and, like a phoenix, rise from the ashes to conjure anew. They have set a firm foundation with the Mario Tennis series, nailing an excellent arcadey feel for the sport that plays to the Mario characters’ personalities. Despite the solid base gameplay mechanics in Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, unfortunately, almost every other aspect of the game takes a step backward, resulting in a rushed mishmash of experiences.
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There are but a few additions added to Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. It’s latter-half namesake, for instance, comes as a power shot when your opponent mistimes or misplays a volley. Standing under the magenta shadow of the ball’s arc, pressing the Y button twice quickly will result in a powerful flat shot, smashed so quick that it is almost impossible for opponents to return it. The Ultra Smash is part of the new Chance Shots gameplay option, where randomly players are given a chance to hit specific types of tennis hits (topspin, lob, chop, slice) for an exaggeratedly strong hit. For example, slice shots curve drastically around opponents, while chops die almost after the first bounce.
The biggest change is the Mega Battle mode, where players have the chance to become gigantic versions of their characters by collecting mega mushrooms throughout a match. At the expense of a larger bounce on hits, mega versions of characters induce more mishit opportunities, can reach more shots due to their range and can effectively cover an entire side of the court from the center. Be careful not to get a body shot, however, as it will knock you back down to regular size (if roughly two minutes of play doesn’t do the same naturally).
Mega Ball Rally is the least imaginative of the new gameplay modes in Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. The objective is to keep a rally going between two to four players, starting out with a volley-ball-sized object that shrinks towards the size of a tennis ball in the high 80’s of successive hits. Finally, the newest addition coming with Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is the Knockback Challenge. All you do is defeat enemy AI in Mega Battle tiebreaker games, earning 100 + 50 (number of matches after 2nd complete) coins to help unlock extras. To help you out, you can also bring out amiibo for the playable characters, which become more powerful as you play a la Smash Bros. customization, but for tennis moves.
When it comes to the overall quality of Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, I am of two minds. The first mindset revolves strictly around how the game plays; amicably. The physics of tennis play continue to embody the tried and true spirit that the game carries since its N64 origins, while playing at a smooth 60 frames per second rate that sports games demand. Chance shots add almost an eccentricity to standard play, with special shots that extend the reach of an arcade style of play. Best yet, they play to each character’s strengths, such as slices for Boo’s “Tricky” style, or added speed for Donkey Kong’s “Power” sensibilities.
It’s a very basic Mario Tennis game available on the Wii U, to put it bluntly. It perfectly provides the scratch to the “Mario and friends playing tennis in a way that plays to their strengths and weakness” itch, in a barebones way of producing it. With the addition of Green Sprixie and Rosalina, you get to see even more of the new Nintendo variety troupe. Plus, everything in the game can be easily unlockable, as either beating basic challenges or earning coins easily through any means of gameplay will bring about 100% completion over 8-10 hours.
Nintendo even tailored gameplay for each of its controllers. Because most button inputs are simple, there is no need to waggle for the Nintendo Wii controllers. Pro Controller and Classic Controllers work, and there are a multitude of options for camera angles involving the Wii U GamePad. Options provided including making each screen present identical views, have the tablet provide just the score or even just present one side of the court’s action. You can even play games online, letting you and your online friend match up in Doubles play to become the be-
Oh wait, that’s right, there is no co-operative play with online friends in Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash.
No matter how winning a formula can be, it’s still up to the creator to bring magic to the recipe. I don’t know which party is most responsible, but Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is an embarrassing, unfinished mess. Everything about the game’s creation indicates a rush job, down from a diminished roster of characters, all “courses” taking place in the same physical location (a garish blue arena), its weak offering of gameplay modes and even in basic polishing. For crying out loud, the announcer doesn’t even denote which character wins a point; players are called “server” or “receiver,” depending on their position within the game.
There is no bigger an indication that Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash exists simply for the sake of rushing out one last game before the holiday season than the fact that they couldn’t even bother to have the voice actor say each character’s name. All aspects of audio design are lacking, including the game’s very limited selection of musical tracks. The opening theme is pretty great, but the small handful of remaining musical choices are all fairly basic. It’s laziness, through and through, and it’s a theme that plagues the game’s major criticisms.
More frustrating is the shallowness that is the online options for Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. The longest match you can play is two games for one set, whether you’re playing doubles or singles. While it’s nice you can bring an amiibo to play with you online for doubles matches, co-op online play being restricted to a Player 2 playing on your same console is ludicrous. For christ’s sake, it’s 2015. Not allowing one of your online friends to join your gaming experience with you, despite owning the same game with online capabilities, is a fundamental failure in game design.
Regarding doubles play, the restrictions in online search functionalities can lead to die situations. For example, you can’t choose your course type, just the style (All/Mega/Simple/Standard) and whether you’re playing for meaningless ranking points. To get into more matches, you need to pick the options that offer the widest assortment of players.
It sets up weird gameplay scenarios, including the Mega Battle + doubles format. If one character on each side gets a Mega Mushroom, the regular-sized player on each team effectively becomes a cheerleader. The gameplay balance is so skewed towards the bigger players that its removes the enjoyment and necessity of teammates, inherently devaluing the experience.
That battle between the rushed effort and the fundamentally solid gameplay formula makes Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash so baffling. It would be so easy to write it off as an aggressively terrible monstrosity, worthy of nobody’s time. But, at a barely-not-full-price game, it serves as an effective way for Wii U owners to get the pure, unadulterated “Nintendo characters, plus tennis” experience. Ultimately, because of its overt to pay attention to detail, a piss poor effort in its online gameplay offerings and a diminished allotment of characters, gameplay modes, collectibles and general things to accomplish, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash serves up a faulty product.
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