Four years ago Nintendo teamed up with development studio Camelot Software Planning to make Mario Tennis 64
, a colorful and engaging take on the popular sport. Mario Tennis 64 served gamers a fast, intuitive back-and-forth experience topped off with a wide selection of classic Nintendo mascots. Not only was it an excellent multiplayer affair, it was one of the best tennis videogames to release last generation, period. Mario Power Tennis for GameCube is an extension of the first. In some ways, that's all it is. The title more or less plays the same as its predecessor. And although the visuals have been improved, the two games remain recognizably related. It's still fun -- downright addictive, in some cases. And it's still pretty. But on top of that, Camelot has ambitioned to add a couple of new gameplay features and several new play modes and while some of them are a success, others fall flat.
- Sequel to the 2000 N64 hit Mario Tennis 64
- Tennis, Nintendo style; fast tennis matches filled with recognizable Nintendo mascots and locations
- A huge selection of playable characters including Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Donkey Kong, Yoshi, Waluigi, Wario, Shy Guy, and Bowser
- An impressive list of Mushroom Kingdom-based tennis courts including Peach's Dome, Wario's Factory, the Haunted Mansion, and even a classic Mario Bros. stadium
- Regular and brand new gimmick courts
- Tennis-based mini-games
- A host of unlockable characters, play modes and courts
- Four-player compatible
- Progressive-scan ready
- Dolby Pro Logic II support
- Requires three memory blocks for saves
Welcome to Mushroom Kingdom
Camelot seems to have realized and in turn capitalized on the fact that many Nintendo fans are drawn to games like Mario Power Tennis because of the characters themselves. Players grew up with Mario, Luigi, Peach and Bowser, and these classic heroes and villains remain a selling point. The presentation in Mario Power Tennis, which is outstanding, surrounds itself in the mascots. The game's opening full-motion video sequence, impressively crisp and clean, introduces many of the comical "athletes" in the game, and the entire intro screams of high production values. It's detailed -- beautiful, to be sure. And it's funny. There are some genuinely hilarious moments, especially for Nintendo fans. The cut-scenes in the game are few and far between -- there's no story, after all, only a series of tennis matches -- but they're fun to watch while they last and will likely get players in the mood to compete.
The play itself is more of the same, a good thing. Strip away all the Nintendo mascots and gimmicky courts and gamers are still left with a robust, finely tuned tennis videogame. Camelot has taken the fundamental play mechanics established in Mario Tennis 64 and brought them over to the GameCube update. The result is a fast moving, but nevertheless entirely tight, responsive game of tennis.
The control configuration is deceptively simplistic. The analog stick effortlessly moves the characters around the courts. A button enables topspin shots and B button slice shots. It's possible to play and win matches without ever touching upon anything else, which means that younger gamers will definitely be able to get some enjoyment out of the title. But adults will take satisfaction in discovering the control intricacies that wait just beneath the surface. For instance, simply tapping the A or B button twice when hitting will cause characters to hit more powerful shots. A and B button together, meanwhile, allow the mascots to hit smash of flat shots. A and then B button will cause the mascots to lob shots, while B and then A will oppositely make them drop their shots over the net. There's depth there. There's strategy, too. Part of the challenge when playing opponents is figuring out when to use a lob to send a ball over their head and when to double tap to rocket a ball past them.
New to the series is the power shot. The cinematic moves add a new dynamic to matches that succeeds on some levels and fails on others. During matches, the heads of the character's tennis racquets will start to glow. When this happens, gamers can hold down R plus either A or B to perform a power shot. There are two types: an offensive and a defensive. The offensive effectively blasts off a speedy, nearly unstoppable shot that's almost certain to score. The defensive enables gamers to hit balls that have already passed their character, and continue the match. The power shots are fun to execute and to watch because they trigger in-match cut-sequences full of colorful, even hilarious, character animations. For instance, Mario's offensive power shot consists of the mascot pulling out a giant hammer and then smashing the oncoming tennis ball, which then blasts back toward opponents in a giant flame. Diddy Kong, meanwhile, sprouts a jetpack, flies around the court, and then smashes the ball across the net. The moves can also be extremely strategic. If players anticipate that their opponent is about to hit a winning lob over the net, they can activate their defensive power shot and hit the ball, even if they otherwise wouldn't have been able to reach it. The downside to the power shots is that they are sometimes so cinematically over-the-top that they can disrupt the gameplay experience and, even more, disorient players, especially during doubles matches when up to four power shots can be activated in succession. Put simply, it can be difficult to follow the ball after a power shot, and that's a huge frustration since the game of tennis can't be played if competitors can't see the ball. This unfortunate drawback doesn't happen because the ball moves too fast, but because the animations for the moves themselves are jarring, and the follow-up effects, which range from flames to animated kisses, can and sometimes do mask the hit tennis ball. Were players simply able to turn the animations off for power shots, this might not be such a problem, but that's not an option. On the bright side, gamers can at least choose to turn power shots as a whole on or off.
Mario Power Tennis sports a wide selection of playable characters. Mario, Peach, Wario, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Boo, Bowser, Luigi, Daisy, Waluigi, Koopa Troopa, Diddy Kong, Shy Guy and Bowser Jr., for starters. The sheer selection is impressive. But more impressive still is that each character features a unique play style and individual power shots. Donkey Kong is, of course, slow, but his serve and shots are extremely strong. Diddy Kong is naturally faster, with weaker strength. And so on. Waluigi can more easily play up front and cover the net and, as expected, characters like Mario and Luigi are just all -around balanced. Part of the fun of either the single or multiplayer matches is discovering the strengths and weaknesses of each foe and playing to them. A number of unlockable characters also lie in wait -- everybody from Fly Guy to a Boss Piranha. All of the character models are detailed and fluidly animated. They even look fantastic in up close shots.
There are, of course, several modes of play. There's the standard Exhibition, which enables gamers to custom create matches against any opponent and on handpicked courts. There's the Tournament, the meat and potatoes of the game, and here competitors duke it out in either the World Open or Gimmick Masters sub-levels, each with Flower, Mushroom and Star Cups, among others. And there are the Special Games, a series of off-the-wall mini-games designed around tennis. The Tournament mode starts off incredibly easy. Too easy. Opponents can be bested in one or two shots or shorter. And this continues for several matches, all the way through the Star Cup, where the difficulty level takes a shot of adrenaline. Some of the following matches could be labeled downright hard.
Advancing through the Tournament Mode unlocks more characters and stages, the latter of which there are 10 total. There is naturally a short selection of regular courts, with green, blue and red backdrops. These are designed for straight-up tennis matches, no extras or gimmicks. And then there are the other types, what Nintendo rightfully labels the Gimmick Courts, which include Peach Dome, Luigi's Mansion Court, Delfino Plaza, Wario Factory Court, Gooper Blooper Court, DK Jungle Court and several unlockables, the most notable being the classic Mario Bros. themed court. The Gimmick Courts are a mixed bag. On the one hand, it can be highly entertaining to play tennis in a location ripped directly from a Nintendo game, and the graphic style for each court is certainly beautiful. The courts are exquisitely detailed and varied, boasting real-time lighting effects and a wealth of particle effects to boot. But on the other, like the aforementioned power shots, the courts can be a distraction from the actual game of tennis, which is an obvious disappointment. The Gimmick Courts occasionally serve up added challenges that work like sticky mud that grabs onto and slows down players in Delfino Plaza and alligators that do the same thing in the DK Jungle. There are also fun item challenges where players must use Koopa Shells, stars, and bananas, among other goodies, against opponents during matches. In contrast, some of the play courts are just annoying. When players hit the ball in Wario's Factory, for instance, bright lights flash that make it a task just to stay focused on the ball. Why Camelot chose to do that, we have no idea.
On top of everything else, there are the Special Games, which are also both good and bad depending on the mode. There's Artist on the Court, Terror Tennis, Tic-Tac Glow, Chain-Chomp Challenge, Gooper Blooper Valley and a few unlockables, including an interesting battle mode against Mecha Bowser. Some of the Special Games are more entertaining in concept than they are execution. Artist in the Court, which challenges gamers to paint a colorless drawing on a wall by lobbing paint balls against it, quickly becomes repetitive. Meanwhile, the four-player ready Chain-Chomp Challenge asks gamers to literally feed the snapping Chomps tennis balls; the player who feeds the most wins. The mode is fun for a short while, but again, there's not a lot of depth. Are we glad that these Special Games are included in Mario Power Tennis? Sure. They might extend the game's already fantastic replay value some. But they certainly don't make or break the experience.
Mario Power Tennis delivers a fun and even challenging single-player experience. But gamers intending to pick the title up for the single-player experience alone won't be getting the full bang for their buck, as far as we're concerned. For as enjoyable as the single-player game might be, it simply doesn't hold a candle to the multiplayer one. It's with friends, preferably two or three, that Mario Power Tennis transforms from a fun tennis romp to a smack-talking addiction. It's just one of those pick-up-and-play sports games that most people are bound to enjoy on some level, and gamers who really know what they're doing will be able to go back and forth for hours without so much as a blink. Although the game looks very much like an update to its N64-based predecessor, the graphics are still impressive. The game runs in progressive scan for a very clean, detailed look. Textures are crisp. Character models move with a cartoon-like fluidity and are gorgeously modeled. The cinematic power shots are hilariously animated and rendered with impressive clarity. And the motion never so much as momentarily stutters from its perpetual 60 frames per second. Of course, the backgrounds could still use some work. The crowds in particular are a repeating blob of the same sprites over and over, for example. But all in all, not bad at all. Meanwhile, the music is somewhere on the average. Not especially crisp. It's not orchestrated, that much is for sure. But it's catchy enough to serve as a background motivator. And we could listen to the moans and growls from Wario and Waluigi for days at a time and still laugh.
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