Mario Tennis Aces is the sequel to the spiritual successor to the follow-up to Pong. Somewhere along the way, video game tennis became significantly more complicated than two paddles and a square ball. Fortunately, this upcoming Switch game will teach you all its tricks, by way of the RPG-style single-player adventure mode.
To be released June 22 (with a free online demo running from June 1-3), Aces is said to be everything that the lackluster (some would say “disastrous”) Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash on Wii U was not. A variety of stadiums, many characters including deep cuts like Spike from Super Mario Bros. 3, and lots of gameplay modes—including the return of that on-again, off-again hallmark of Mario sports games, Adventure Mode.
I spent some time with Mario Tennis Aces at a recent Nintendo preview event, so let me explain a little bit about how this one will work: Playing as Mario, you’ll move around a traditional dots-and-lines world map, taking on a series of increasingly difficult tennis-based challenges. I got to play the first few levels, and it’s clear that this mode, while being fun in and of itself, will also help you learn how to play Mario-based tennis.
Which is different from IRL tennis. Oh, sure, you’ve got your lobs, your slices, et cetera. And an early stage in Adventure mode teaches you which button and joystick combinations will let you hit the ball in the approximate direction you’re hoping to hit it. But you can also charge up a shot. Or do a timing-based “trick shot” by tapping the stick to leap through the air and smack the ball as you land. You can use “zone speed” to slow down time, and “zone shot” to go into a first-person aiming mode and put the ball precisely where you want it.
Oh, and you can break your opponent’s racket, or have your own broken, with a Special Shot. You can use a perfectly-timed return to counter that, though. And I’m sure there’s stuff I’m forgetting about. The point is, there’s a lot to learn. Adventure mode teaches you this stuff in fun ways. In one early level, you’re faced not with a net and an opponent but with a whole garden full of Piranha Plants who are spitting fireballs at you. You have to return them using Zone shots to win. Once you’re done, you’ll be pretty comfortable with the basics of how Zone shots work.
As you complete levels, Mario’s stats (shot speed, run speed, agility) and his racket’s (attack, defense, durability) will increase. You’ll even gain XP for trying a level and failing, which is always appreciated. You can replay completed levels to grind out some stat increases before taking on tougher challenges.
Later, you’ll face off against boss characters, like Petey Piranha, which will test your ability to put all of the moves you’ve learned together. I didn’t beat Petey during my demo, which mostly came down to the fact that I didn’t have the timing right for the Special Shot returns, meaning his powerful shots would smash my racket, which is an instant Game Over.
There’s a wacky-ass story tying this all together—long story short, an evil tennis racket places a curse on Wario and Waluigi—so tennis players who were put off by Ultra Smash’s lack of content will surely not find that to be the case with Aces. For those who haven’t played much Mario tennis before, the Adventure mode looks like it will be a great starting point.