Mario and Co. return to the court... but they forgot the rest of their game!

User Rating: 5 | Mario Tennis Open 3DS
Mario's been in everything imaginable. Board games, baseball, soccer, basketball, even the Olympics. The world of tennis is something Mario knows well, having appeared on the Nintendo 64, the Game Boy Advance, the GameCube and then having that installment rereleased on the Wii. Now, he brings his tennis buddies with him on the Nintendo 3DS, but something is lost during transit: the rest of the game.

Mario Tennis Open has two modes of tournament play: singles and doubles, along with an exhibition mode. Each mode has four cups that progressively unlock with another four cups that unlock after that. The problem with these cups is they don't last very long. You play one match up, then it advances to the semi-finals and on to the finals. The first few cups are extremely easy and you can beat them in less than a half hour. Plus, the first round or two on many of the cups are over after only one set. There's no way to tinker with the settings of these tournaments to make them any longer, so the game's replayability relies heavily on playing the game over and over with different characters instead of having worthwhile matches.

It's rather a shame, too, because the core gameplay is a lot of fun. Each of the face buttons has a different kind of shot, such as topspin and slice shots, and if you press A and then B and vice versa, you can do lobs and drop shots. Every so often, there will be a Chance Shot indicator where the ball will land. If you press and hold the corresponding button, you'll perform a Chance Shot and send the ball flying back with a special effect, such as a fireball for a topspin that pushes the opponent back after being returned, or a slice that curves wildly making it hard to anticipate. It's quite an easy system to learn and very accessible.

Chance Shots seem imbalanced, however. In the more advanced cups, the AI begins to ramp up, and then you might notice that it starts to become a server's game. Chance Shots might appear one right after the other on your opponent's end leaving you with no option but to try to hold on as long as possible before the computer manages to get one by you. This imbalance leads to crushing comebacks that frustrate you because you feel that you were never given the chance.

Another major problem with the game lies in your doubles partner's AI. For the most part, it's absolutely horrible. They will either rush your side of the court when they should be holding their own position, cut you off and swat back the ball when you were all set up for a Chance Shot, and many times they fail to capitalize on their own Chance Shots, slamming the ball directly to the opponent when the other side of the court was empty. Playing doubles is quite frustrating, because you will lose a lot of points no thanks to your crummy partner. You'll even find yourself rushing to the ball, trying to beat your partner so that you yourself can smash the ball where you know it should go. If Nintendo was smart, they would have made a way to tailor the partner AI so it would behave the way you wanted them to.

Then there is the online component, and something very evil manifests itself. This ties into yet another problem with the game, and that's the gyroscopic controls. You can manipulate the camera, which rests behind your character, by tilting the 3DS. Some people may prefer this method of control, but it disables the 3D effect. So, the evilness is not being able to pause the game and turn the gryo off. You can flick the 3DS to change the camera to overhead and disable the gryo that way, but if you're one of those players who play their games so intensely that you're shaking the system, you're going to find yourself fighting this. Also, the game does not save your settings in single player, so you'll need to remember to turn off the gryo every time you start a new game. Lastly, the most you can play online is two sets for one game. It's ridiculous to start matches again and again when you could and should have had the option to set parameters before matches.

When you don't feel like playing matches on or offline, you can always engage in the Special Games. These games - and there are only four of them - let you fine tune your skills while engaging in something a bit more entertaining than just simple volleying. There is Ring Shot, where you try to score as many points as you can by hitting the ball through expanding rings; Galaxy Rally, which has you hitting a certain number of Star Pieces while avoiding the holes; Ink Showdown that pits you against ink-spitting piranha planets that goop up your screen if you let a blob past you; and Super Mario Tennis, which is perhaps the most clever of the mini games, as you play actual Super Mario Bros. by hitting goombas, coin blocks and warp pipes with your ball. This particular mini game can be a bit unfair, though, as you need to hit objects to replenish the clock, and some levels have segments where there's simply nothing to hit.

With only four mini games, you'll start to get tired of them rather early on, which is extremely unfortunate as it's the only way to earn coins in the game. You can purchase gear from wrist bands to racquets to entire outfits for your Mii character, and all of these items affect your stats in some form or fashion. The only problem is, the items can be extremely expensive and the mini games don't yield that many coins, meaning you'll be doing a lot of grinding if you wish to collect everything the game has to offer. Plus, you earn absolutely no coins in the game's other modes, which is unfortunate, as some people may be addicted to playing nothing but tournaments or people online.

Mario Tennis Open's graphics are pretty good. Each court has their own unique feel and look from Donkey Kong's jungle court to Princess Peach's castle court and there's even a special court at the last cup of the tournament that takes place in space above a rotating planetoid from Super Mario Galaxy. The characters are modeled and animate well, all displaying personality when they win or lose. The special effects are decent for a tennis game, with colorful trails when a Chance Shot is perfectly executed.

The audio fits the nature and theme of the game pretty well. Each tournament has their own music, but if you select specific courts in some of the mini games, they will have their own thematic tracks as well. The sound effects are rather basic, but the ball being smashed with a Chance Shot always sounds satisfying. Plus, you can never stop loving Yoshi's adorable mews and squeaks whenever he's playing.

People like playing long matches of tennis. This is something Mario Tennis Open rarely lets you do, which is why it feels like so less of a game. A low number of mini games with a high number of expensive gear to purchase makes playing them feel like a total grind. Short tournaments and a rather small number of players don't make the single player feel substantial and not being able to set rules online makes matchmaking a repetitive affair. Throw in some balancing issues with the gameplay and very shoddy partner AI and you have a tennis game that could have been a lot of fun, but ended up being extremely disappointing. If you love Mario Tennis games, you'll most likely enjoy Open, but do yourself a favor and find the game on sale. It's not worth paying full price for.