If you have ever wanted to play a tennis game in which you have a better chance of breaking your racket than hitting the ball out of bounds, then Mario Tennis Aces is for you. Just get ready for some frustrating matches.
This new Mario Tennis, which comes out Friday for Nintendo Switch, is yet another arcadey Mario take on a sports game. Mario Tennis Aces won’t ask you to worry about whether you’re hitting a forehand or backhand, or whether your shots are staying on the court as you rally with enemy Boos and Piranha Plants. There are far more serious concerns here. Like whether you’ve got enough energy stored up to slow down time and counter your opponent’s high-speed Power Shot before it splits your racket in half.
I’ve spent a couple hours with Mario Tennis Aces’ story mode, and while the large world map may seem exciting at first, it’s actually all very straightforward. There’s very little story—Wario and Waluigi, under the spell of a magical tennis racket, have kidnapped Luigi—and there are few interesting decisions to make about where to go or what to find. It’s just a series of challenges—often fun, often frustrating—that all involve tennis.
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The big twist is that this is arcade-style tennis. You’ll be running around the court, hitting lobs and slices and topspins, while charging up energy for Special Shots and Zone Shots and maybe even doing somersaults for a Trick Shot. You’ll have to think more about risk calculation and countering your opponent’s moves than you will about whether you’re hitting the ball at the right time.
The story mode is mostly a series of challenges. One level may ask you to keep up a rally with a Shy Guy until you reach a certain number of points. Another level wants you to hit the ball away from your opponent—if he hits it back, you lose. Some areas have other challenges, like a haunted house in which you have to use targeted Zone Shots to knock out an evil mirror. The connections to actual tennis may be spurious, but the creativity is not.
If you are anything like me, you will lose these challenges. Often. They’re tough, at times bordering on feeling cheap, or at least frustrating in an unpleasant way. As I played through the story mode on a flight home from E3 last week, it was fortunate I didn’t have an actual racket to snap in half like John McEnroe. I kept losing, and losing, and losing, to the point where it was a nice stress reliever to get home and start playing Dark Souls. The satisfaction of beating each stage has never been quite worth the gauntlet.
Mario Tennis Aces is fun, mostly. I’ve enjoyed running around and charging up shots, rallying back and forth with the Mushroom Kingdom’s diverse array of anthropomorphic critters. The story mode isn’t quite the deep role-playing game one might have expected when Nintendo announced it earlier this year, but it’s cute. Even if it may lead to some broken Switches.