Since the last time we played Mario Power Tennis, we've been really looking forward to its early November release date; so much so, in fact, that we couldn't resist grabbing a Japanese copy of the game (titled simply Mario Tennis GC) to play a few pickup matches on its zany courts. The couple of hours we spent with Power Tennis revealed some new features in the game, and now we're anticipating its US release all the more. We've even documented our morning antics in movie and
When we last played Mario Power Tennis, we were equally impressed by its simple, easy-to-pick-up game mechanics and the wealth of crazy Mario-style courts, characters, and special moves on offer. Well, the mechanics haven't exactly changed a whole lot, so we focused on exploring even more of the "gimmick courts" and minigames that are available in the upcoming release. As we revealed earlier this month, you can perform a regular swing and a lob with the A and B buttons, respectively, and you can charge up your shots for more power, which makes you stationary for a few seconds. The X and Y buttons will fire off your offensive and defensive power moves, which you can use after you've volleyed successfully for a bit. Each character's defensive move will let him or her return a ball that's out of reach, and it always involves some wacky animation. Meanwhile, the offensive moves generally send the ball back with greater power, or they otherwise make the ball harder to hit.
One interesting thing we noticed in playing around with this import is that there are three control types (simple, normal, and technical) that control how much the game does for you and how much you have to control manually. For instance, simple mode will actually activate your defensive power move automatically, when it's available, and it will allow your player to return an out-of-reach ball without any extra input from you. The other extreme, the technical mode, not only makes you use your special moves manually, but also requires you to be in the proper position to hit the ball when you use them. That is, you can hit your offensive power move button when your character is all the way across the court from the ball, and, of course, you'll miss, thus wasting your move and letting the opposition score a point. We found the technical mode to be the most entertaining one, because it gives you the most control and therefore makes the gameplay more interesting.
We got to check out more of the game's wild "gimmick" courts this time around, which will be one of Power Tennis' big selling points over other, more serious tennis games (along with that old Nintendo flavor, that is). While the Donkey Kong-themed jungle court sadly didn't have the DK Rap as its background music, it did have a number of small alligators crawling along its net. A well-placed shot would knock the critters down to the other team's side, where they'd proceed to wander around and chomp on the derriere of anyone who got too close (which, naturally, impeded their tennis-playing ability a bit). On the Luigi's Mansion-themed ghost court, we played a doubles match against the CPU and were pretty much flabbergasted at the number of ghosts rushing around us on the court. Frankly, the computer took us to school on this court, because we kept losing the ball in the spectral swarm and then missed our swings. Thankfully, it appears as though you'll be able to disable the "gimmicks" on these courts if you just want to play a regular game of tennis with some varied backgrounds, though it seems like this feature will have to be unlocked as you play.
Power Tennis' minigames are at least as entertaining as the regular tennis action, and we delved further into this mode, too. In addition to the unique wall-painting game we tried last time, we played a Luigi's Mansion-style game that had us facing a wall of ghost portraits, with various ghosts trying to wriggle out from the paintings to come and mess with us. With a well-placed shot, we could send them back to their paintings, which earned us a handful of points toward our high-score goal (which had to be achieved within a time limit). Another minigame pitted us against three CPU-controlled players, and all four of us were running on conveyor belts with chain chomps at the end. We had to use our skills with the racket to keep the hungry monsters at bay. And speaking of unlocking things, it looks like the game will offer a lot more than the initial courts and minigames, because when we finished the tournament mode for the first time, we opened up a new Bowser-related minigame. We've even heard tale of a Mario Bros.-themed court that evokes the spirit of the classic arcade game.
It almost goes without saying, at this point, that Mario Power Tennis, like every first-party Nintendo game, looks fantastic. The character models are very highly detailed and animate with all the aplomb you'd find in a hyperkinetic cartoon, and the backgrounds effectively evoke whichever previous Nintendo game they're inspired by. The gameplay moves at a very rapid pace, and even when the power-move cutscenes kick in, they happen so quickly that you don't feel like you're being taken out of the game's action. These are also extremely funny the first time you see them. In fact, we noticed a crowd forming around the television while we were firing off special moves left and right, with laughter punctuating just about every one. For that matter, the intro is pretty darn amusing too. Overall, the presentation is just as slick and endearing as that of any other great Nintendo game you've played recently.
Eager importers of Mario Power Tennis will be interested to know that most of the text is in Japanese, and while you can definitely play the game by intuiting your way through the menus, you might miss some of the more complicated options (such as setting up your control type properly). And besides, why import the game when the US version will be out in fewer than two weeks? Look for our full review of this wildly entertaining game when it ships in the second week of November.