Mario Tennis Aces Hands-On Preview
Hitting the court with Mario and friends
Over this last weekend, Nintendo cracked open its servers to allow players around the world to get a taste of the upcoming Mario Tennis Aces. The preview event was similar to other network testing events, such as those held for Splatoon 2 and ARMS.
The preview contained a step-by-step tutorial to introduce the gameplay concepts (more on that in a moment), as well as the ability to play some matches against either a CPU opponent or to join a global player-versus-player tournament. Although the latter was more fun than the former, I’ll admit that I very quickly learned just how determined (and skilled) Mario Tennis Aces players can be.
I should back up for just a moment and point out that Mario Tennis Aces is made by none other than Camelot Software Planning. This legendary little studio has a stellar pedigree, having created the Shining franchise for Sega back in the Mega Drive/Genesis days, as well as the stunning Golden Sun for GameBoy Advance. More recently (at least since 2000/2001), Camelot took on responsibility for numerous “Mario Sports” titles, particularly those related to golf and tennis.
It’s worth noting that these games are pretty universally beloved, but I’ll admit to having played none of them. The only Nintendo-related tennis game I’ve played is actually Tennis on the original GameBoy.
So, playing Mario Tennis Aces over the weekend was really my first time with a Camelot sports title — and even as someone who isn’t normally a big fan of sports titles, I’m now looking forward to Mario Tennis Aces even more than I was before.
I spent most of my time playing online, which was a remarkably smooth experience. Well, except for the tears I was shedding from constant losses. :-\
One of the joys of Mario Tennis Aces is that it doesn’t attempt to be a tennis simulator. Running around the court and hitting the ball feels wonderful thanks to incredibly tight, crips controls, but getting the most out of this game is going to require a deeper understanding of its more complex systems.
In addition to regular shots, you can perform special shots like lobs, slices, and topspins. But if you’re able to maintain an ongoing rally with your opponent, you’ll build up a power gauge that gives you access to far more powerful moves. The “zone shot”, for example, almost feels like a Final Fantasy limit break; it triggers a cool little animation, and puts you in first-person mode where you can aim the ball either at a place on the court or directly at your opponent.
Aiming a zone shot directly at your opponent is risky but potentially rewarding. If you manage to hit them and they don’t counter in time, you’ll break their racket in one shot, awarding you points. If they do counter the shot, their racket will survive, but it’ll still take some damage.
As well as the zone shot, there’s another special move called “zone speed”. Zone speed essentially allows a player to slow down time — a useful manoeuvre if you need to reach a ball at the far side of the court (or if you need to respond to an opponent’s zone shot).
There are other powerful moves too, like the special shot and the trick shot. Mastering each of these moves in the context of the tutorial is relatively easy; the real challenge is utilising them effectively during a heated match with an opponent.
And that is really the crux of what made the demo feel so great. Just like real-life tennis, it’s possible for one player to be on an early winning streak with an apparently obvious path to victory, only to suddenly find “Deuce” flashing up on the screen, leaving you wondering how your opponent caught up so quickly. Because each player has access to the same moves, Mario Tennis Aces is really all about timing and coordination — thanks to the hassle-free online connectivity I encountered on the weekend, each match felt frantic, fast-paced, and incredibly tense. I loved it. I hope the experience holds up in that way when the full game is released.
The full game will also contain an “adventure mode” of sorts, which looks like a pretty fleshed-out experience based on the footage Nintendo have released so far. You’ll move around the world on a large map full of levels/matches; these matches might include anything from a boss battle to a puzzle match. Much like Splatoon 2 before it, Mario Tennis Aces is promising a robust online multiplayer experience along with a fully-featured single-player adventure.
Mario Tennis Aces will be released globally on the 22nd of June 2018.