Mario Tennis Open preview

Just like Mario Kart and Mario Golf before it, Nintendo has managed to carve out a nice little niche for Mario Tennis.  Ever since its debut on the Nintendo 64 years ago, it’s become something of a multiplayer phenomenon, with players of all skill sets returning the ball with lobs, power swings and other shots, all while staying planted within the Mario universe.  The upcoming 3DS edition of that game, Mario Tennis Open, continues to buck the trend, carrying on the tennis shenanigans while introducing new features specific to this new version.  We managed to check out a hands-on demo of the game last week during the Game Developers Conference. 

The first thing you’ll notice is how you can actually change the viewpoint of playing depending on how you hold the system.  If you hold it down at a certain level, it retains the top-down viewpoint that the series has become known for, so you can see the entire court and plot your shots carefully.  However, if you hold it in front of you, about at eye level (or just a slight bit below), the viewpoint changes to behind the player, really showing off the 3D depth that Nintendo is putting into the game.  How you play is completely up to you, but we advise checking out both perspectives just to see how much they differ.

Using the behind the player view also introduces some new play mechanics, as you can use the gyro sensor to move the player back and forth on the court, simply by tilting the system.  It’s innovative, but not altogether comfortable.  Fortunately, general control options are also included, with the D-pad and buttons.  Touch screen returns are also available, but we found them to be a bit tricky as well.  We’re sure someone will truly appreciate them, though.

As you play, you can also manipulate your ideal shots on the court.  This is done through images that appear right beneath your player as you return your shots.  Depending on what you choose, your shots could easily make a difference.  For instance, if you see a mushroom image underneath your player, you’ll want to hit the shot associated with the mushroom for best results.  Of course, you can play however you see fit and still have fun with it.

Mario Tennis 3DS comes with a great tournament mode, as well as various mini-games for single players to enjoy, along with unlockable content, such as bonus arenas to play in and additional characters.  If you really want to get into the addictive part of the game, however, we suggest checking out multiplayer.  The game supports up to four players in either local Wi-Fi connection, or online through the Nintendo Network, where opponents are no doubt waiting to slam the ball into your court.  We didn’t get a chance to try out the online functions yet, but seeing as how Nintendo nailed it with Mario Kart 7, we can only expect equal success here.

While Mario Tennis may not look vastly different from previous Tennis games (aside from the 3D factor, obviously), it’s bright and colorful and really brings out the best in the 3D screen.  Players animate as expected, with victory and failure animations depending on your shot.  The courts look fantastic, judging by what we’ve seen thus far, and the varying viewpoints really add something to the game, no matter what you’re into.

Kudos to Camelot for sticking with what works, while also toying around with 3DS features to offer something new.  Mario Tennis Open will no doubt be a big hit for Nintendo once its launches May 24, whether you’re going at it solo or bringing some friends to the party.  We’ll let you know if it’s service with a smile, with a full review shortly following the game’s release.