Mario Tennis may not be the first choice franchise that Nintendo wanted to be leading the software charge with this Christmas. The delay of Star Fox Zero has left them with limited choice and this does give rise to the concern that Mario Tennis is highly unlikely to be delayed no matter how necessary it may be. I am therefore very hopeful that the code on display was outdated given how close this is to launch as it seemed to somewhat lack the extreme level of polish that is usually associated with Nintendo software. I would estimate that this is probably the same build that has been doing the rounds since E3 and is therefore slightly out of date.
• Developer: Camelot Software Planning
• Publisher: Nintendo
• Previewed on: Wii U
• Release Date: 20th November 2015
Note that the age of the code was difficult to establish due to Nintendo’s general policy of not having knowledgeable staff on their Expo stands – I will add the proviso that I did not actually get a chance to ask on this occasion but that has always been the case at previous events. That is also not to say that they do not deliver a professional experience for consumers, just that it can be difficult to get further information without separate confirmation. I do not really see that this is a situation that needs “correcting” but just offering an explanation.
I should also note that Mario Tennis Ultra Smash is still a fun game to play. I am a fan of the series going all the way back to Tennis on the Gameboy and really liked the more recent Mario Tennis Open on the 3DS. Hence my concern to ensure this game lives up to the high standard I have come to expect.
At EGX 2015, the game was being demoed on two Pro controllers (which perhaps does not bode well for fans of the Gamepad – I am sure that some probably still exist!) It would have been interesting to see if playing with the Gamepad mimicked the touchscreen controls available on the 3DS version – especially as this made responding with the correct Chance Shot easier. Chance shots give you the opportunity to gain an advantage (such as knocking an opponent backwards) when the choice of shot is accurately matched to the Mario style symbol flashed on the ground. I was able to have a few games of versus and also play solo against the AI in single and doubles. I did not get to play multiplayer doubles but did watch a few matches that were presented on stage.
Control-wise it plays very similarly to the 3DS version. Face buttons activate standard shots, swerves or topspin and a combination of these are used for lobs and dropshots – which make these slightly trickier to pull off successfully, giving a nice risk/reward balance. New to the series are the Jumpshots, activated by double pressing A or B, which are required to counter lobs and smashes that would otherwise travel over your head. Mushroom power-ups land on your side of the court (seemingly randomly) which has the standard Mario result of making characters grow in size. This looks fun but the animation this cuts to breaks up the flow of the match, although it does seem to give a quick recap of where the ball was heading prior to getting you back in the action. However, the larger characters makes it slightly more awkward to keep track of the ball. There also does not seem to be any significant advantage or disadvantage to being larger aside from making it easier to cover the court and less likely for the ball to go over your head. You have to pick up the mushroom power-up in the midst of a rally, which again gives a nice balance of risk and reward.
While there was no evidence of any other modes on display at EGX, I am very hopeful that some of the really fun mini-games that were present in the 3DS title make it to the console version. A particular highlight was the “Super Mario Tennis” mode that allowed you to progress through levels of classic Super Mario Bros. platform games based on your ability to keep a rally going against a wall.
Basically, if you want a new game for your Wii U this Christmas you may have very limited choice but I fully expect Nintendo to have another fun, family friendly smash on their hands once again – even if it is not the high-profile system seller that Nintendo and their fans were hoping for.
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