Wango! Wango! That is a word I have been saying a lot due to the abundance of smashing hits I have been scoring in Mario Tennis, the new N64 game from Camelot. You remember them. They were the masterminds behind Super Smash Bros. and Mario Golf. I tell ya, giving these guys the Nintendo license was a very smart move on the part of Big N. Not only have they produced some of the greatest licensed games for the system, but I would say that they have kept the Mario name and image in a good light considering he has not been on a real adventure for about 4 years.
But I digress. If you played Mario Golf then you will begin to get the idea behind the feel of Mario Tennis. It is a cute cartoon game with the clear emphasis unabashedly put on fun. You can go play yourself some Virtual Tennis if you want realism. It is all about enjoyment here folks. This is to say that the game does not require you to be totally accurate about where you stand when you hit the ball or at what level you are aiming at. If you don’t want to try anything fancy just hitting one button will pretty much always send the ball straight over the net in bounds. Of course not trying anything fancy won’t get you very far (there is a great deal of skill involved to make it to the finals) but it is easy to pick up and play nonetheless. And if you have 4 people playing for the first time you will find that just about everyone can hop in and be a tennis pro.
There are a bunch of Mario characters to choose from all coming from the Mario universe this time. I wish there were hidden Pokemon or Samus but no such luck. The closest thing to “other game characters” are Donkey Kong and DK Jr. but if you remember Mario was in those games. Each player has its own characteristics like in Mario Golf and Mario Kart. The bigger guys like Bowser and Wario move slowly but have one hell of a hit. Others excel in speed or technique but have less power than the strong arms. The newest feature in the character department is the introduction of the charismatic villain, Waluigi, Luigi’s evil twin. He is surely on his way to becoming a favorite in the Mario World. Look for him and Wario to star in a game together (if there is a God).
There are many different modes to make up for the fact that the courts, even the hidden ones, are all very similar. It is tennis after all, 2 sides and a net is pretty much the extent of design. The extra modes include a ring mode, various tournaments, and a Bowser stage. The last one takes place in Bowser’s castle on a teetering court with weapons. Just like in Mario Kart you can attack your opponents with shells, banana peels, and even lightning. If the regular action is not enough for you try this stage. It took me three sets to even figure out where the ball was. The other modes are pretty cool too. They are mostly mini-games to help build up your tennis skills so that you can rock in the tournaments. The only problem with the extra modes is the way the reward system is set-up. Instead of earning extras like you do by completing the tournaments you are just fighting to beat your own top scores or your friends’, which can get pretty old if you don’t have a rival that comes over every week.
The action and gameplay is great fun. Even if you find tennis to be an absolute bore you will probably still be attracted to the colorful, wacky action in Mario Tennis. The control is very simple to master. There are a few special moves that can be learned in order to lob, slice or slam the ball, but it’s nothing too complicated. The real challenge is the speed and strategy involved. Since you only have a half-second to decide where to hit the next shot, good reflexes are key. Plus you have to plan out where you think your opponent is going to hit it so that you can position yourself. Do you charge the net or hang back and rely on you aim and power? Of course to any tennis game pro this strategy may seem trite but the way that all this strategy factors in to this kiddy game is something to be commended.
Like I said there are hidden goodies to find and different modes to try so the game will keep you occupied for quite a while. Plus it has the kind of quick multi-player fun that gives it major staying power in you collection right next to Smash Bros. and Golden Eye. Be warned. If playing tennis with Mario characters doesn’t sound fun to you this game won’t change your mind about it. But if you were a fan of Mario Golf and you are looking for something with a little more “Wango” then Mario Tennis is for you.
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