Mario Tennis (N64): Does It Hold Up?
On a recent edition of Does It Hold Up?, I gladly revisited the Nintendo 64 classic Mario Golf. This time around, let's jump back into the weird world of Mario sports games with Mario Tennis, another beloved Nintendo 64 title that kind of reinvented the whole party-games-starring-Mario thing ... at least for that console. Mario Tennis was truly a fan favorite back in 2000 thanks to its quirky game modes and strong multiplayer factor, but even today, it's still a lot of fun.
A few parallels can be drawn between this Mario sports title and Mario Golf. For starters, Mario Tennis is pretty fun if you play Tournament mode by yourself, but it truly shines when you introduce more players into the mix. Taking on a buddy — or better yet, teaming up with a friend and taking on two other pals in doubles competition — makes for a raucous good time. This is the kind of couch multiplayer experience that's rapidly making a big return to modern gaming, and for this style of game, it definitely beats any sort of online multiplayer component.
Gimmick modes change things up considerably while still adhering to the rules of tennis. Ring Shot is one of the standouts, tasking players with hitting the ball through rings to rack up more points than their opponents. Then there's Bowser Stage, which takes place on a tilting court to throw off the accuracy of your hits. Adding to the insanity is the use of item boxes taken right out of Mario Kart that can aid you as you take on other players. Items include banana peels, mushrooms, green shells, red shells, stars, and lightning bolts, which all work like they would in Nintendo's kart racing series.
If you'd rather play something that's more in line with regular tennis, Mario Tennis has that, too, because of course it does! The game's Exhibition mode is where you can access traditional singles and doubles matches against the AI or other players. As previously established, however, playing against friends is always the more entertaining option.
A game like this would falter if its gameplay was merely serviceable or just good. That's why Mario Tennis continues to excel — it's still a hell of a lot of fun to play because the tennis mechanics are rock solid. Like Mario Golf before it, this game is easy to pick up and play but still has a few nuances that you discover along the way. Those nuances aren't as intricate as the gameplay in Mario Golf, but Mario Tennis still rewards players who take the time to put in a little practice.
Another cool feature is the abundance of courts to play on. While you've got basic hard, clay, and grass courts, there are also flashier character-themed courts that each offer something different. The Donkey Kong Court's surface, for example, causes the ball to move at a much more rapid speed while bouncing higher. Meanwhile something like the Wario and Waluigi Court features slow ball speeds but ridiculously strong bounces. These courts make for a nice change of both pace and strategy when you're engaging in a round of tennis with your friends.
The verdict: Mario Tennis is a great round of tennis — oh, and Waluigi's not that bad
Despite the massive amounts of praise, Mario Tennis also gets some flack for introducing Waluigi to the Mario universe. To be quite honest, I've always been kind of fond of the lanky dude, despite the fact that he's based on Luigi, who I can't stand. I mean, he's the only Mario character whose eyes sparkle when he scores a point, so that has to count for something.
In any case, this is quite possibly the best game in the tennis series of Mario titles. It's certainly the richest in terms of nostalgia. And sure, it's super polygonal, but even then, it's just a great game to sit down and play with some friends. The 3DS may have gotten the solid Mario Tennis Open in 2012, but there's absolutely no way handheld tennis beats playing on the same TV with your buddies or siblings. If you've got a Wii or Wii U, be sure to download Mario Tennis from the Wii Shop Channel, as this is a fine round of tennis that's totally worth revisiting.
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