A couple of us were lucky enough to spend some time with Mario Tennis. We were quite pleased, I'm compelled to add - and the prolonged bouts of silent concentration broken only by sharp curses served as evidence.
As with many of Nintendo's products, the company's memorable themes are ingrained heavily into the game. Characters from all over parts of the series' history make appearances, and the general visual tone is instantly familiar. Look for such perennials as Mario, Luigi, and Bowser, as well as some of the underappreciated members of the pantheon, like SMB 2's Birdo and the wicked Koopa Paratroopa.
The gameplay is right-on and simple, with one button being all you need most of the time. Save for in the Bowser Mode (which incorporates the R button), the A and B buttons are all you need, which, as logic would dictate, cause you to hit the ball. Holding down the A button well before you hit the ball allows your characters to power up their strokes, causing the ball to travel faster and giving it a little comet tail.
Mario Tennis offers a great many play modes, all of which we graciously sampled. Aside from your standard series of matches, the game offers two interesting variations, both of which (as well as the standard game) can be played in singles or doubles mode.
Ring mode has you and your opponent smacking the ball through a series of rings to accumulate points, which are credited to the winner of the volley. Let's say, for example, both players hit the ball through eight rings; as soon as a point is scored, the victor will gain eight points. Intended to prolong the action, no doubt, the ring mode offers a great alternative to the standard game.
Bowser mode, though, seemed to be the show-stealing feature. The mode takes place on a court very similar in nature to the first boss' stage in Super Mario World - a gigantic, tilting, inverted turtle shell that floats on lava. The court similarly tilts, though it resembles a harsh iron platform hosting a tennis court. The directions in which the court tilts affect both the ball's velocity and the players' movements, so competitors must constantly try to eek out advantageous positions. What's more, power-up boxes rest right above the nets, granting those who smack the ball through them familiar Marioisms, including mushrooms, stars, shells, and banana peels. R2 activates the power-ups, most of which are offensive in nature, and which, a la Mario Kart, stun, trip up, or otherwise incapacitate your opponent, allowing you to sneak a ball through on the sly.
Needless to say, we're looking forward to getting our hands on this one. The gameplay is simple, fun, and enjoyable by up to four players. The themes cater to memories of simpler times, and the production is characteristic of Nintendo's legendary polish. Very good stuff, to be sure. Look for Mario Tennis come August.