Review: Mario Tennis Ultra Smash

The Mario sports series is one I hold dearly, as it encouraged me as a young lad to try out activities that weren't just football. I used to regularly head down to the local par three golf course with friends most weekends, signed up to tennis lessons and even attempted some basketball as well, inspired by the fun I had had playing the Mario themed games. I ploughed hours in to Mario Golf 64, and likewise with its Tennis counterpart, making sure I got the star players for every character, like my friends, so that we had the best selection no matter who was hosting.

So it doesn't give me any pleasure to say that the best thing about Mario Tennis Ultra Smash on the Wii U is that, if you buy it on the eShop, you'll get a free copy of the brilliant N64 game to play via the Virtual Console. Camelot and Nintendo have really delivered an uninspiring, content-lite experience, taking everything they had from the 3DS' Mario Tennis Open and, well, replicating it on the home console, and not in a good way.

Mario Tennis Ultra Smash Image 1

Yoshi with a nice serve there, clearly licking his opponent.

To be fair, I enjoyed Mario Tennis Open on the 3DS as it was well suited to the handheld and more bitesize chunks of gameplay. And there are elements to enjoy here as well. The actual game of Tennis is as solid as ever, arguably the best video game tennis experience produced. Controls are easy to use and have enough depth to spice things up as well, with lobs, drop shots and slam dunk smashes satisfying to pull off. The game looks gorgeous as well, easily the best looking mushroom kingdom you've seen. And wonderful touches, such as the ice court reflections, really show that Camelot know what they are doing with the Wii U hardware.

For me, this is mostly where the good times stopped, and the doubts and eventual apathy towards Ultra Smash appeared. When you first start up the game, you notice different boxes showing off each game mode. The one which takes up almost half the space is 'Mega battle' which has been heavily advertised and features Toads at the side of the court throwing giant mushrooms on to the court to spice the action up. Unfortunately that is the sum of it, and although it can make matches exciting, especially in multiplayer, there isn't a whole lot to it. Which might be said for the rest of the game as well. Mega Ball Rally is just hitting a ball, which decreases in size the longer the rally goes on, back and forth. Knockout challenge is the games version of a single player mode, where you face off against different characters in tie break situations (first past six points and at least two points clear). If you reach the fifteenth character it turns into a boss battle, with which you are rewarded with your characters 'star' versions, meaning serves are quicker, and shots are harder too.

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Three of the Mushroom Kingdom's finest females - oh and Toad - strut their stuff.

The most disappointing aspect of this mode is that, should you lose, you can easily buy yourself back into the same round with accumulated coins. It negates any sort of pressure or tension, knowing you can easily jump back in if you get knocked out. I can understand why, in this day and age where patience is at a minimum and check point are rife in almost all games, but I would have liked to feel challenged by his mode. You can go all the way up to fifty matches with a single character, and the higher up you go the more intense and tactical the battles become, with the giant mushrooms adding plenty to matches and can see you win from the most improbable situations. The problem is, though, that I'm not sure many will want to go further than they have to in this mode.

Online play is available, although sadly I couldn't get a game with my review copy. However looking at the menus available it does seem this will be similar to Mario Tennis Open and, to a degree, Mario Kart 8; a points ranking system which would appear to go up the more success you have. There didn't seem to be any option to seek out friends whom might be online as well, or indeed any voice chat options. I'm happy to be proved wrong once the game launches with updates and finding out more once servers (no pun intended) are live, however it does seem limited at best.

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I know Wario usually takes up a large amount of the court but this is just silly.

Honestly I found the best thing to do with this game was go to the 'Classic Tennis' mode and just choose simple. No trick shots, no special shots, just pure tennis; that's where the fun is to be had in this game. And in local multiplayer it can be lots of fun. If you have someone you regularly have gaming nights with, I think this would be a great title to pick up, put on simple mode and really find out who has got what it takes on the mushroom kingdom courts.

There are unlockable characters and courses to find, and an achievement system built into the game as well, which gives you medallions for getting star characters, playing a certain amount of games and generally doing everything. Strangely, you can just buy these medallions with coins you accumulate; so if you're like me you can go about things the hard way or, if you want it a bit easier, you could probably unlock everything within a couple of hours of play.

Finally, I think the thing that really disappointed me about this game was the overall lack of detail. Alarm bells started going off when, after I won my first game, Toadsworth announced "Game, Set, and Match: Receiver". Receiver?! Depending on whether you were serving or receiving when the winning point is scored, that's how the winner is announced. It really bugged me that in this day and age they hadn't even put in character names. It may seem trivial but often it's the little touches that make the game.

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Now you can witness the sheer erm... determination on Waluigi's face in HD.

Also the game only supports the Wii Remote when it's turned on its side and used like a traditional controller, completely negating any good work Camelot had done from the last home console Mario Tennis game, the GameCube remake that appeared on the Wii which featured full motion controls.
And what is this 'Ultra Smash' that appears in the title of the game? I'll tell you what it is, it's button press at a specific time that just produces an overhead smash. No mini cutscenes, no fan fare, no complications. It's just a shot in the game. But then I guess "Mario Tennis: Back Hand" isn't quite as sexy no matter how much more accurate it might be.

Overall what is a fundamentally very sound game of Tennis, which is both beautiful to look at and can be fun in local multiplayer, is let down by uninspiring and too few game modes, poor quality in the finer details, and a distinct lack of challenge. It's difficult to recommend this game, however if you do feel the urge to buy it , or as previously mentioned you think it will be a fun addition to local game nights; then do yourself a favour and buy it on the eshop so that, when you are alone, you can play the brilliant Mario Tennis 64 and think about what might have been.

N-Europe Final Verdict

Mario Tennis is back, but it's not better than ever. A limited game in almost every way, this is not the game you want to find in your Christmas stocking this year.

  • Gameplay4
  • Playability1
  • Visuals5
  • Audio3
  • Lifespan2
Final Score



Graphically stunning, the best Mushroom Kingdom we've seen.
Local multiplayer can be fun


Poor single player
Poor online
Distinct lack of polish
No ring shot or time attack modes
Feels like a rushed job

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