Mario Tennis Open

Love-Hate Relationship

Mario Tennis Open moves like real tennis but plays like Simon.

By Steve Heisler • May 23, 2012

You have no choice but to form a deep bond with Mario Tennis Open. No, it’s not a very compelling game: There’s no story whatsoever, and it’s not some savvy meta-commentary on sports games that’ll forever change the way tennis is virtually played. I mean that you have to physically interact with the game by holding your Nintendo 3DS up to your face and moving it back and forth for the entire time you’re playing.

Using the Nintendo 3DS’ gyroscope, Mario Tennis Open allows you to see the match at the low angle your player would. The view shifts as you “look” from side to side, and shots are returned in the direction you’re facing. So you use the joystick to run and the unit itself to shift your gaze. In this way, Mario Tennis Open is one of the most realistic tennis games to ever be released, requiring the kind of dexterity and forward-thinking, almost military-grade strategy needed in a well-played match. It’s also, in other ways, wildly unrealistic, introducing wrinkles like power shots and courtside hints to constantly remind players that, no, this isn’t actually tennis—much like if Nintendo’s Wii Sports bowling game had included mandatory bumpers.

Mario Tennis Open

The emphasis here is on the “Mario” part of the title—the game is built on the evergreen cartoonishness of Mario’s mustachioed universe, which has long since expanded to include a huge range of characters. As usual, each of these characters has a special skill set. Mario and Luigi are the balanced ones, Yoshi is fast, Bowser is powerful—if you’ve played any of the Mario [Insert Name Of Sport] games before, these descriptors should be old hat. If you choose to play with your Mii avatar—i.e., as yourself—you’re able to customize at will, using, say, Peach’s shoes for speed, but Boo’s racquet for hitting tricky shots.

These differences are more aesthetic than strategic, though. Success and failure are determined more by your ability to stand inside colored dots than your choice of accessories. The game divides shots into a few familiar categories: topspin, slice, a flat shot, and so on. When your opponent hits the ball to you, the game gives you a color-coded indication of which shot you should use to return. Of course, you can go ahead and lob when all signs point to spin, but Mario Tennis Open is pretty sure you’d be better off if you followed directions.

Yet the game still maintains the illusion that you’re playing tennis rather than a color-coded rhythm game like Simon. And it’s a nifty illusion at that. Holding the 3DS upright is like holding your racquet in ready position, unsure of where the ball’s going to land. Once it does land, turning the 3DS in the direction you want the ball to go is like aiming the perfect follow-through. After a while, however, this on-court action view can get cumbersome, and there are times where it seems impossible to face the way you want. (It almost goes without saying that the actual 3D mode, which requires you look at the screen dead-on, is pretty much unworkable.) To change the ball’s general direction, you have to overcompensate with your aim—a lot—and there’s virtually no chance it’ll ever go out-of-bounds. The upshot is that Mario Tennis Open is a game with no other stakes than, “Will he hit it back?”

Mario Tennis Open

The sensation of solid control is even more elusive during the game’s special modes, which require pinpoint shot placement. The most head-scratching of these is “Super Mario Tennis,” where you play through levels of the original Super Mario Bros. by hitting the ball at goombas, coins, questions blocks, and ultimately the flag. It’s an intriguing premise that gives way to frustration when your aim, as always, remains less than true.

For all its emphasis on realism, strategy be damned: Mario Tennis Open falls apart simply if you don’t hit the right button at the right time. It uses revolutionary technology essentially to recreate its predecessors. Only this time, it’s literally in your face.

Mario Tennis Open
Developer: Camelot
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Price: $40
Rating: E

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259 Responses to “Love-Hate Relationship”

  1. Jason Sigler says:

    I love the idea of basing reviews and/or discussions about games around a single aspect of the game, it really helps to dig deeper instead of offering a broad, also-ran look that just feels retreaded. However, it seems that, in this case at least, the fact that this gyroscope control scheme is optional should definitely be included.

    • Disco_Stud says:

      I agree.  It feels slightly disingenuous for a review not to mention that it’s optional.  Either way, I won’t be buying this game.  I may be a ravenous Nintendo fan, but this seems completely uninteresting.

  2. Andy Lopez says:

    OG Mario Tennis on the 64 will always be king. 

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      Like most Mario games, I prefer the Gamecube Mario Tennis over the N64 iteration. I’m honestly not intimately familiar with the Mario Tennis games, but i distinctly remember enjoying the GC version much much more. Don’t even get me started on Mario Kart 64.

      • Girard says:

         Double Dash was absolutely my favorite Kart game, too. The cooperative aspect of the gameplay added something really special that none of the other iterations have included.

        • BarbleBapkins says:

           I am glad to see some more love for Double Dash. The Co-op WAS great, and it had the best battle mode in the series: Bob-omb battle, which was crazy fun at 3 in the morning with 4 friends and beer.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          My favorite Mario Kart is actually Mario Kart DS, though Double Dash is a close second.

      • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC says:

        My sister had a weird friend who only played Mario Kart 64 and The Sims. Wouldn’t even try anything else.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      Game Boy Color Mario Golf > Gamecube Mario Tennis > Gamecube Mario Golf > Game Boy Advance Mario Golf > Nintendo 64 Mario Tennis > Game Boy Advance Mario Tennis > Nintendo 64 Mario Golf > Game Boy Color Mario Tennis

      > whatever this is

      Between this and the newest Golden Sun, I wonder if Nintendo is ordering Camelot to dial back its ambition and creativity.  Bizarre online, low character count, little content to explore, hand-holding that quickly becomes a vice on creative play, minimal aesthetic charm outside of the serviceable (HA) Sakuraba soundtrack?  Are the Takahashi brothers bored?  I hear there are some world-class developers out of work in Japan who could use a Mario license.

      I like Steve’s review hook, though.

  3. caspiancomic says:

    Man, an hour or two playing DS with the stylus begins to cramp my hands up- my right one because it’s trying to grip this tiny piece of plastic, and my left is curled into a grotesque claw trying to keep access to the d-pad and shoulder button while keeping the unit upright. And now you’re telling me I’ve got to physically move the unit backwards and forwards as well? Is Nintendo trying to give me carpal tunnel or something?

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