Once again, Nintendo has taken a sport that not everyone likes and has transformed it into a fun-filled game that's suitable for any player of any age.
- Good balance between realism and accessibility
- Healthy selection of play options and characters
- Power shots improve the already-great Mario Tennis formula
- Tons of personality thanks to Mario characters.
- The required RPG mode is a bit too involved.
Time and time again, Nintendo has demonstrated a talent for taking sports that are considered bland from a spectator's perspective and adapting them into lavishly produced and fun-filled video games. People that otherwise wouldn't pay a passing glance to sports like golf, soccer, tennis, and baseball have come to discover that games based on these sports are a thrill a minute when Mario and his cohorts are involved. The latest example of this phenomenon is Mario Tennis: Power Tour, a rousing tennis game for the Game Boy Advance that's thick with bells and whistles in every regard.
Nintendo and Camelot didn't set out to reinvent the wheel with Mario Tennis: Power Tour. Instead, what they've done is build upon the earlier Mario Tennis Game Boy Color game by upgrading the graphics and audio, expanding the single-player role-playing mode, increasing the selection of characters and minigames, and, to top it all off, incorporating gameplay aspects that were recently introduced in Mario Power Tennis for the GameCube.
Solo play modes include an RPG-style tour mode, an exhibition mode, and 18 different minigames. Some of the minigames aren't even tennis related this time around, like the treadmill game that's eerily similar to Donkey Kong. Various options can be adjusted for exhibition matches, including CPU difficulty, court location, and the number of games and sets per match. Multiplayer play is, of course, a major feature. Using a link cable or the GBA wireless adapter, you can join together two systems for singles play or chain together four systems for doubles play. Aside from all of those play modes, the game is further bolstered by its extensive character roster. In all, there are no fewer than 30 characters to pick from, each with its own stats and power shots.
For better or worse, the majority of characters and all of the minigames are locked from the get-go. To unlock them, you have to play through the single-player power tour mode. It basically picks up where the story mode in Mario Tennis GBC left off. Many of the old characters are now coaches, while two new recruits, Clay and Ace, have enrolled at the tennis academy to pick up the mantle and embark on the fast track toward challenging the world's best players. Their quest is set up like a tennis-themed role-playing game. There are numerous places to visit, many characters to talk to, minigames to practice on, and, of course, plenty of tennis matches to partake in. Clay and Ace even level up like typical RPG characters do, with experience points earned from matches and minigames going toward various primary and secondary skills of the player's choosing. Some minigames help Clay and Ace add power shots to their bag of tricks.
Having players work through the power tour mode isn't necessarily a bad thing, since it is meant to impart all of the game's intricacies from beginner to expert and beyond. Nonetheless, some players may be turned off by the slow pace at which unlockables become available (typically one per match), or they may just deem the entire quest too drawn out for its own good. Characters tend to grind progress to a halt by chatting at length on numerous occasions. Meanwhile, unlocking everything by getting through all three class levels and two main tournaments can easily take upwards of 15 hours.
Out on the court, Mario Tennis: Power Tour balances the necessary aspects of tennis with the outlandish sort of video-game-inspired nuances that make games like this fun to play. On the one hand, it's nice that aspects such as scoring, shots, and physics are all somewhat grounded in reality. On the other hand, the inclusion of curvy slices and unbelievable power shots gives the game an extra dash of excitement that traditional tennis doesn't have. The characters are speedy, the shots are fast, and the overall flow is conducive to quick volleys and finishing smashes. Also, much of the time, the CPU puts up a decent challenge. CPU opponents can be tricked into leaving their backs wide open or eating a smash to the face once in a while, but generally they try their best to return the ball or catch you leaning the wrong way.