Review: Mario Power Tennis
Posted 08 Mar 2005 at 05:49 by James
I feel like I've just been beaten to within an inch of my life with tennis racquets. Imagine a beautiful painting, a magnificent piece of artwork, that has been defaced with a thick black marker pen, and the bitterness that comes with that image is close to how I feel. Not because Mario Power Tennis is a bad game – it isn't. But because developers Camelot have taken that marker pen to the original Mario Tennis. They've taken the arcade tennis perfection of the game and tarnished it with unnecessary gimmicks that cause frustration rather than enjoyment. Mario Power Tennis had the potential to be fantastic – instead, it retains just enough of its original magic to fathom some enjoyment out of it. Just.
You see, for some obscure reason, Camelot have felt the need to incorporate special moves for each character into the gameplay, allowing your character (or your opponents) to unleash a powerful return shot just when you think you've scored a point. Anecdote time, people. I was playing in the final doubles match of one of the game's tournaments, with my AI partner (Donkey Kong) against my two wily opponents. Opting to play tennis the old-fashioned way rather than using any fancy tricks, I sent the ball rocketing into the top left corner for the point that would win me the match, and the championship. Just as I moved to raise my fist in victory, one of my opponents, who was too far away from the ball to hit it, somehow managed to pull of some ridiculous trick and my chances of victory were literally thrown back into my face. I had to endure another painful five minutes of rallying, which was frequently interspersed with the other three characters spinning or flying or cannonballing into the ball – even when they were perfectly capable of just USING THE FLAMING TENNIS RACQUET.
If these special moves actually made the game more enjoyable, then I wouldn't have a problem – instead, they serve (hah!) as a cheap, over-elaborate, frustrating method of cheating – I honestly feel that way. The apparent lack of an option to turn them off in tournaments (said option is limited to the Exhibition mode only) means that the addition of these gimmicky moves costs the game a great deal of its appeal – it was a very poor move by Camelot. Why, why can't we just play regular tennis?
Thankfully, while these moves detract from the gameplay experience, they are the only major flaw to be found in the game. If you can forgive this colossal fault, and look past the almost painfully camp graphics, underneath is an arcade tennis game that, despite the flaws in its execution, is fairly entertaining. The single player modes are deep and challenging enough to keep you playing for a good month or so, with the tournaments and (excellent) minigames providing plenty of enjoyment when you're on your lonesome, and the (gimmick-ridden) courts are varied enough to keep things interesting. If you don't think I've criticised this game enough, however, the music can become somewhat repetitive, but aside from these two faults, Mario Power Tennis is certainly competent enough.
The minigames are, for the most part, excellent fun. While a few of them grate after a few attempts, some of them are capable of draining hours from your life – I particularly like Artist on the Court and Terror Tennis, which can become extremely addictive after a while due to the challenge they present to the player, with the action being slick and enjoyable. Aside from these games, we have the standard collection of tournaments (including – wait for it – the 'Gimmick Masters' tournaments. At least they have the balls to admit it) and plenty of unlockables for the player to earn, such as extra characters, new minigames, and star characters.
With friends, I'm pleased to say that Mario Power Tennis excels – compared to the somewhat flat single player modes, it's a whole new ball game (pun intended). When you're having a multiplayer tennis tournament with your friends, the entertainment factor is ramped up a notch – especially if you refrain from using the special moves. While the single player is fun enough, having three mates crammed onto the sofa, Wavebirds in hand, in a doubles tournament is superb fun, and if you're after nothing more than a decent multiplayer experience, you can't really go wrong with this.
In the end though, I find it hard to strongly recommend Mario Power Tennis. It's solid fun, but rarely anything more – if you owned the N64 version, I strongly advise that you stay away from this. However, if you hold no high expectations from this game, and are after a decent, entertaining, occasionally frustrating brightly coloured tennis experience, there's a plumber in a red cap ready to serve. I'll see you on the court.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Not a patch on the original classic, and not what we were expecting, but solid fun and worth a look.
If you played the original, don't go near it