A great thing about sports, whether in real life or in videogames, is that they’re not particularly complicated. Sure, they have rules, some more complex than others, but outside of that, there’s not much to them. Excluding professional wrestling, their only drama is generally the natural conflict of competition.
I wish this were the case with Mario Tennis Aces. It is a game that will just not let me play and enjoy itself.
The gameplay of Mario Tennis Aces is pretty simple: players progress along a loosely linear path to compete in levels that offer different challenges or themes against characters all from the Mario series. In addition to the standard tennis maneuvers from games past, like lobs and slices, a variety of new special moves can be used, like Zone Shots, which can be activated to enter a separate mode where Mario can aim a powerful return, or Zone Speed, which lets Mario slow time while moving at full speed. Both are fueled by an energy gauge that is refilled by volleys against an opponent, or by using trick shots. Together, the many techniques can be orchestrated into a beautiful on-court chaos, which Mario uses to take down his enemies as he dominates matches across the map.
Despite its joy on a technical level, Mario Tennis Aces gums up its own works. One problem with a game like this is that it really doesn’t need a huge premise to hold it together. And Mario Tennis Aces has maybe a little too much premise. I just want to play some tennis without all the added fuss of magic Power Stones and haunted tennis racquets, and without having to have a long winded conversation every time I enter a level. The whole thing might work better if the writing were funny or had the self awareness to be tongue in cheek, but it takes itself too seriously and is riddled with cliches. Combined with seemingly endless replay screens (which I somehow always forget to skip through until they’ve already wasted my time), the effect is sluggish. I was spamming the A and + buttons very quickly into the game.
The new special moves, while fun, are also a lot to take in all at once in the tutorial. I think that they could have been incorporated at a more methodical pace, perhaps more in tune with the player’s progress as they invest in Mario’s skills. The character leveling and racquet collection, which I imagine were meant to give the player a sense of progression, also feel unnecessary. I don’t really care about mindlessly pouring points into Mario’s agility, or having multiple unique racquets to swap through when one breaks after I fail to block a special shot—I mostly just want to play the game. If they’re going to go this route, it could stand to be a bit more imaginative instead of a points-driven slog.
Things do pick up once the matches get serious. The variations in each level are a great change of pace, and cycling through the power moves and special shots can be really satisfying once you built up the dexterity and reflexes to pull them off. It’s just such a shame that you have to skip through so much of the game just to play it. When I actually get to play Mario Tennis Aces, I really enjoy it. But it lacks the luster of that high quality Nintendo shine.
Mario Tennis Aces was developed by Camelot Software Planning and published by Nintendo. It is available for the Switch.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.