For all their detractors and the lack of outstanding third party support, Nintendo has always done one thing better than anyone—be Nintendo. A Nintendo thing is almost always instantly recognizable. Their characters are endearing and enduring, and when they branch those characters out, it’s almost always successfully. Whether Mario is adventuring in his own RPG, driving through insane tracks in Mario Kart, or, in this case, lobbing tennis balls, he always does it with such incredible results, we can’t help but love the little bugger.
Mario Tennis Ultra Smash is the latest such effort and, sure enough, it’s gleefully fun. Single-player, online, couch co-op with two or four players, singles, doubles, standard tennis, or goofy powered-up versions… it doesn’t matter, Mario Tennis crushes the boundaries between casual and hardcore play to be a game that’s fun for everyone.
For the most part, anyway. Although the roster of playable characters isn’t as packed as Smash Bros. or Mario Kart, there’s still a wide range of personalities here. Aside from Mario and Luigi, there are princesses, Bowser and his minions, Donkey Kong, and more familiar figures. Each character has specific strengths, though there aren’t enough differences to make game play imbalanced. There’s no story mode or anything, just a championship mode and tennis matches against either the computer, other players, or both.
Nintendo wisely included options to play the new Ultra Smash mode or just (fairly) regular tennis without power-ups. In Ultra Smash, the game dynamics have changed significantly thanks to mega mushrooms that make any character who touches them giant-sized. This gives you more power and ease of reaching the ball, but opens the player up to getting hit by the tennis ball more easily.
Tennis is one of the only games (next to maybe dodge ball) that penalizes and blames the receiver for being hit by the ball, and there’s a lot of that sort of thing here. Mario Tennis in any mode uses those standard (and for non-tennis players, inexplicable) tennis rules and scoring. If you know why you suddenly have 30 points when it should really just be two points, more power to you. Thankfully, an intimate understanding of real-world tennis mechanics isn’t all that relevant to the enjoyment of the game.
Mario Tennis Ultra Smash supports worldwide online play as well, which is a great feature, but really works best when all the players are in the same room. This is the kind of ideal party game that Nintendo excels at. With two or four players squashed on a sofa, competing is just a ton of fun. Since the controls are kept relatively simple, kids, non-gamers and experienced gamers can all play easily with any of Nintendo’s various controller choices. The game does use combo button moves to perform super jumps—leading to powerfully heaving the ball toward your opponent—but these are easy enough to either learn or ignore altogether.
It also supports Nintendo’s Amiibo toy line to unlock outfits and goodies that way. If you’re into these highly collectible toys with negligible in-game value, here’s one more relatively insignificant thing you can do with them.
There are a few blemishes hindering the overall experience. The most glaring issue is the general camera view. Something about it screws with the depth of field, making it hard to gauge the location of the ball at times. There are a few camera options, but this continued to be a recurring issue, leading to some minor frustration.
In the Ultra mode, the main gimmick is the mega mushroom, which is fun, but acquiring it leads to a jarring pause in the action to show a cinematic scene of the character growing. Once or twice, this sequence was cool, but quickly enough it became a hindrance that occasionally lead to totally ruining the rhythm of the on-going match.
Neither issue proves to be a game wrecker thankfully, but do keep Mario Tennis Ultra Smash from reaching the heights of pure fun it might have. Just the same, if you love Mario, tennis (or Pong for that matter), Mario Tennis is still an entertaining option. For social gamers, in particular, who enjoy a good game night in front of the TV, this is a perfect choice.
Mario Tennis Ultra Smash was developed by Camelot Software Planning and published by Nintendo. It’s only available on the Wii U.
Jason D’Aprile has been covering games and entertainment for the last three decades across a variety of platforms, many of which are now extinct. In addition to covering gaming (both obscure and otherwise), he also writes a bit of the odd fiction and tries hard to avoid social media.