Je suis tennis.
Way too much time was spent trying to figure out the best pun appropriate title for this article, I hope it’s okay. I came into the release of Mario Tennis: Aces absolutely buzzed. No, it wasn’t because I got double Nintendo points for pre-ordering the game (I’M OVER $18, WAHOO), it’s because I’ve been dying for a good tennis game since devoting a good part of my childhood to Virtua Tennis on the PSP. I don’t actually know if this was a good game, but God damn was I glued.
When Mario Tennis: Aces was announced, I was so excited, but I feel like I always knew the multiplayer would be fun – the story-mode campaign, however, left me intrigued. I desperately wanted to see how they implemented tennis mechanics into a Mario-style campaign structure. Unfortunately, a few hours in I’m struggling to justify why I should continue, after becoming so infuriated by its frustrating interface and repetitive challenges.
At first I just thought the game was off to a slow start. The drip-feed of mechanics began to grind on me, as I had to sift through a multitude of unskippable dialogue boxes that popped up, providing information which would have been ‘received’ (pun intended) just as easily as button prompts in gameplay. The worst part is, they saw fit to separate training for certain gameplay mechanics between different tennis matches, all of which have a tremendously annoying amount of preamble before you can get to business. The minor nitpicking doesn’t end there, as this problem persists WAYYY past the initial tutorial section of the game.
Whilst I commend Nintendo for not making the campaign a push-over difficulty, they don’t include any form of ‘retry’ button. That is to say, if you already know you’re incapable of succeeding in the challenge, you have to quit out into the overworld, and reenter. The upside is at least THIS dialogue is skippable, but you still have to cram the button more than you would like to get back in. If you decide to stick the challenge out to the end, or lose right at the precipice, have fun pressing your way through the unskippable “HAHA, YOU SUCK” dialogue which occurs after every failure. Those are just my complaints with the game’s user interface.
Onto the campaign’s boring core gameplay. Each level follows the same rote path: a one-on-one with some weird environmental shit happening in the background, a target practice, a target-practice-puzzle, and a boss fight. Aside from the initial cutscenes, all of these challenges are just interlaced with the same boring, super-slow dialogue. Yes, there is still that Mario charm in there, but due to how the rest of the game circles around these frustrating delays, you can’t appreciate them.
And that’s another thing, the boss fights echo similar problems I have with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze’s boss fights: they’re too damn long. Do you know what makes them feel even worse? The poor communication of what the fuck you’re actually meant to do. So far, each boss fight has involved having a rally with moving objects, whilst avoiding being hit by them, until a health bar goes down so that you can do a zone-shot on the actual boss. After each heart of the boss is lost, things try to block your next zone-shot, getting increasingly harder. Maybe if these levels were shorter and telegraphed more of the mechanics they would be less infuriating and more of a fun aside.
One thing that could have saved this mode was character customisation, but there isn’t any. Players don’t possess agency in customising Mario’s stats; once the challenge is over, your bar level and respective ‘skill-bars’ go up. Boring.
The thing is that this campaign isn’t great, but it didn’t HAVE to be bad. If the pacing was considerably faster, and the individual challenges shorter, it would have been totally serviceable. However, Nintendo tried to pad it out, and the game suffers greatly because of it.