Mario Tennis Ultra Smash: review

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It’s a wonder that Mario and co find any time for kidnapping plots and platform jumping, really. They seem to spend so much time playing golf, racing around in karts, organising fighting tournaments, playing board games, and – of course – playing tennis. It’s a bit nippy outside for that sort of thing at the moment, but the Wii U instalment of Mario Tennis lets you do that in the warm comfort of your own home. Will you want to, though?

We’re not talking in-depth simulation, here. If that’s what you’re expecting in a game where you can set up a tennis match between a gorilla and a dinosaur, though, it seems fair to say that you’re the one with the problem. Ultra Smash isn’t oversimplified, either – just very, very arcadey. It follows the rules of tennis – the ball must bounce once before a serve can be returned, 15 points per ball whizzing past your opponent, etc. etc. – but, in Mario Tennis tradition, there are some colourful twists.

When the ball comes your way, you’ll often see a coloured spot on the court. Return the ball from this spot using the corresponding button, and you’ll perform a ‘chance shot’ – a shot that’s more powerful or otherwise harder to return than normal. This isn’t actually necessarily the best shot to perform, but that’s the sort of thing you need to make a split-second decision on during a match. The important thing is that these shots are tricky to return, but far from impossible. The fact that both sides get chance shot opportunities on a regular basis also stops it from feeling unfair.

Mario and Bowser ON THE SAME TEAM?!? Mind. Blown.

Then there are Mega Mushrooms, a few thrown onto the court at random through the course of a match. Collect one of these before the rally is over, and your character gets supersized. The main benefit to this is that your shots are so strong they push your opponent back a little each time. The effect wears off after a while, or immediately if you get hit with the ball. If you just want a game of old-fashioned tennis without the super-shots and mushrooms (but with Mario characters, of course), that’s an option too.

As well as aiming you shot in the direction you want it to go, there’s also a mild element of tactics with different buttons and combos for slices, lobs, drop shots, and so on. If you can’t be bothered with that – or if you’re playing with a younger gamer who doesn’t have the time or patience for that sort of thing – sticking to the X button for your swing will ensure that the game always chooses what it thinks is the best type of shot. It’s well worth learning the different shots and when to use them, though, as this can really pay off against a skilled opponent.

AI opponents put up a decent fight after the first few difficulties, with the hardest really putting you to the test. There’s online play too. This works in a similar manner to Mario Kart, in that ranked play gives you a starting count of 2,000 points, and you then gain or lose points according to your performance in each match. No lobbies or rematches, unfortunately. Amiibo functionality is interesting here; if you have one of the (small number of) compatible Amiibo, you can use it to create an AI partner to play alongside and level up. You can even team up with it to play doubles matches online.

We’d love to drive one of those things around. Who wouldn’t?

It looks great, as you’d expect from a game with full Nintendo backing. There’s a neat unlock system – unlock new characters, courts, and more by fulfilling criteria (e.g. complete a certain number of match types) or purchase them immediately with coins earned in-game. No nasty microtransactions here. The controls are absolutely spot-on too, a pleasure to play whether it’s against AI or another human. But – and it’s a bigger ‘but’ than the one which drops onto Bowser’s throne – there’s a sore lack of content.

For one thing, there’s no tournaments whatsoever. Not even one. No tournament mode in a tennis game; seriously, Nintendo? Not a smidge of story or structured competition anywhere. What you do get is the option to play online, or one of four offline match types; standard with chance shots and mushrooms, a survival-type game against increasingly difficult opponents, a minigame where you have to keep a rally going for as long as possible, or classic tennis without mushrooms. That’s it.

We praised the unlock system, and stand by that – it’s a good idea well implemented. The unlocks themselves are mostly disappointing in volume and substance, though. There’s not a huge amount of stuff there and, while there are things like new characters and courts, most of it is things like a new AI difficulty or a ‘star’ version of an already available character. No fun and silly Mario-themed minigames, no alternate tennis balls, only a few fantastical court surfaces. At least the character you choose makes a difference in terms of speed and power. As in Super Mario Kart, Toad is the best. Don’t bother trying to argue with us on this.

The price is likely to drop in the Christmas/New Year sales. If it does, and you want a fun and accessible tennis game, snap this up. Be wary of buying it at full whack, though. Mario Tennis Ultra Smash doesn’t really do anything wrong; there’s just not enough of what it does right.

critical score 6

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

One comment

  1. Mr. Hockey /

    Ah, I still remember when I learnt the rules of tennis from the NES game “Tennis” where Mario played the referee.

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