Mario and friends swings back into action
After a three year break, the long-running Mario Tennis franchise returns with its first entry on Wii U, and the seventh game overall. The “big” new addition in this latest iteration, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, is Mega Battle, a mode featuring Mega Mushrooms that enlarge our tennis superstars to gigantic proportions. That’s not all Nintendo added this time around though, with the game containing a handful of new playable characters, as well as new gameplay mechanics like Jump Shots and the eponymous Ultra Smash move.
Platform: Wii U
Publisher: Camelot Software Planning
Genre: Sports, Tennis
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
Five different modes to play
Ultra Smash, like previous Mario Tennis games, was designed with multiplayer in mind. The flagship local multiplayer mode in this edition is Mega Battle, which can be played as a singles (1v1) or doubles (2v2) match. As an exhibition-type mode, all the expected menu options are present here, including the ability to play as your favourite Mushroom Kingdom character, select from different court surfaces, and choose how many games and sets to play. What makes Mega Battle different from a traditional exhibition match, however, is the inclusion of Mega Mushrooms that are randomly tossed onto the court by Toad characters standing around the perimeter.
When you’re lucky enough to catch one of these bouncing mushrooms (which you can see in the background in the image at right), the camera will cut to dynamic close-up shots of your character growing to an enormous size. As a giant, you’ll receive many benefits such as increased shot power, extended reach, an enlarged racket making it easier to return shots, and your opponent will be pushed back when answering one of your shots. Having all these powerful boosts mid-match is a real game changer and can quickly turn the tide in your favour, but you have to be quick since the effects of Mega Mushrooms wear off after a brief period of time.
The Toads are a bit mischievous I found, as they have a knack of throwing one of these performance enhancing mushrooms to one player/team, then intentionally waiting about 10-20 seconds before releasing one to the other side. That means you’ll have a lot of imbalanced scenarios where one player/team has a significant advantage over their opponent(s). For this reason alone, I suggest jumping into Mega Battle primarily when you’re with friends and are looking to have some fun, as ultimately this mode is much more about entertainment than it is fair competition.
Mega Ball Rally
Next, Ultra Smash includes one mini-game challenge called Mega Ball Rally where the goal is see how long you can keep a rally going with consecutive hits. This mode can also be played singles or doubles, enabling up to four people to participate. To keep you on your toes, the tennis ball starts out very large, and gradually decreases in size as the rally goes on.
In order to maximize your rally score you’ll definitely want to play this mode with friends, as the COM players tend to act the same as they do in a regular match, even though the goal here is to work together. Plus, in doubles matches, your COM partner always seems to whack the ball directly into your back, ending the rally. Overall, this mode is fun to try out a few times, but its appeal wears off fast.
Knockout Challenge replaces the traditional Tournament mode featured in Mario Tennis games, and this time the focus is on your amiibos. Set-up like a typical ladder match, the goal here is to rack up consecutive wins and face tougher opponents as you climb the ladder. Playing solo is one option, but you can also double team your opponent by tapping a compatible amiibo figure for a 2-on-1 rally.
After a certain number of matches your amiibo will power up one of their eight stats, which range from their stroke strength, to their accuracy when aiming for corners, to how fast they can run on the court. The level-up system is very similar to what was used in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, complete with the ability to remove unwanted stats, and add new ones, to further customize your amiibo allies. Once you’ve trained your amiibo, it’s also possible to carry them over to the online mode to assist you when playing others from around the world. I had quite a bit of fun with this mode, particularly the amiibo aspect, but it’s too bad it comes at the sacrifice of the usual beefy Tournament mode, which has more replay value.
For sports purists, there’s Tennis Classic, a mode that does away with Mega Mushrooms and focuses more on the game’s core tennis gameplay. Choosing the “Simple” sub-mode will let you play a straightforward game of tennis with the new Jump moves disabled, as well as the removal of Chance Shot circles (more on these in a moment). If you want to go head-to-head against your friends in a pure competitive match, this is the ideal mode.
Alternatively, if you still want a bit of flash in your game, choosing the “Standard” sub-menu option will activate Jump moves and Chance Shots. Jump moves are brand new to the series and are performed by tapping a swing button twice when near the ball. Doing so will cause your character to jump high into the air, adding more speed and bounce to your shot, but at the risk of making yourself vulnerable to quick counter shots.
Chance Shots, on the other hand, is a returning feature that places coloured circles on the court in the optimal spot to make a return shot. These circles come in five different colours (red, blue, purple, yellow, and white) and indicate which button, or combination of buttons to press. Successfully executing Chance Shots can result in the wackiest and wildest shots in the game, such as giving the ball a ridiculously wide curve, or virtually no bounce, and make it more difficult for your opponent to return a counter shot. Once you and your friends gain experience with these maneuvers, the combination of rapid-fire trick shots and jumping power slams will make rallies thrilling to watch.
When you’re ready to test your skill against other players from around the world, there’s Online matchmaking for singles and doubles. Casual players can opt to “Play for Fun” in unranked matches on randomized courts, and the more competitive type can choose to “Play a Serious Match” where your performance is ranked and the court type is limited to Hard, Clay, or Grass.
What’s great about the ranking system is that the game will try its best to match you up with players of comparable skill, so matches tend to be fair and intense. I had quite a few really impressive back-and-forth rallies with online players, some of which that lasted a few minutes between points, so I found these online matches to be much more exciting than taking on the rather predictable COM players in the offline modes. The only down-side is some online connections were a bit laggy, resulting in missed shots and other mishaps, but thankfully poor connections were pretty rare.
Like the game’s name implies, this latest version of Mario Tennis adds a brand new move to your tennis arsenal called an Ultra Smash. It’s the most powerful shot in the game (by far) and successfully executing one, at the right angle, practically guarantees you’ll score. The opportunity to unleash this devastating shot happens only under certain circumstances though, such as when ball is lobbed high into the air, and it’s identified by a large purple Chance Shot on the court.
In the rare case that you’re able to return an Ultra Smash sent your way, the sheer force of the shot will send your character reeling backwards quite a distance. When this happens your opponent usually has a good chance to score while you recover, making an Ultra Smash even more dangerous to be on the receiving end of. Of course, when you’re the one performing the Ultra Smash, watching your opponent scramble can be very satisfying.
Content is somewhat limited
I had a lot of fun with Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, but overall I found the amount of content to be limited, even when compared to prior entries in the series. With only 16 playable characters, Ultra Smash has even less characters than the 3DS version that came out three years ago, and when you compare that to other recent Nintendo games, like Super Smash Bros. with 50+ characters, the roster here seems quite paltry. Also, while Mega Ball Rally is fun to play a couple times, the prior Mario Tennis games had many more mini-games included, like Ring Shot, Ink Showdown, and the Piranha Challenge. The most egregious omission though is the complete removal of Tournament mode, one of the most popular modes from past entries that adds a tremendous amount of replay value.
Mario Tennis Ultra Smash is solid new entry in the Mario Tennis series, with beautiful graphics, great new gameplay mechanics, and a streamlined online experience. I liked the new gameplay additions, such as the Jump move and Ultra Smash, both of which expand your offensive arsenal in rallies. The lack of content however is a disappointment, so serious tennis fans will likely get more enjoyment from this game. Overall, it’s not a perfect game, but tennis fans should get their fix.
+ Beautiful HD graphics
+ Easy to control
+ Jump moves and Ultra Smashes are nice additions
+ Fun to play
– Lack of Content
– Online games can sometimes lag
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 3/5
Overall Rating 3.4/5 (68%)
By Paul Hunter, Editor Gaming
I work out of Toronto, Ontario as the Editor of Gaming here on the Plug-in Blog and as Editor-in-Chief of NextGen Player. I am thankful for having a loving and patient wife who doesn’t mind my 40 hour a week obsession with gaming. You can follow me on Twitter @NextGenPlayer and on my exclusive Vine gaming channel. Come join the conversation!