Game, set, moustache: Mario Tennis Aces: Hands-on
Mario Tennis Aces for the Nintendo Switch is a multiplayer with friends where love means nothing.
Despite the crippling migraines brought on by early stereoscopic 3D, I've been an avid Mario Tennis fan since the Virtual Boy. From that inauspicious baseline, I've watched Nintendo's sporting sub-series blossom into Petey Piranha proportions. Mario Tennis Aces for the Nintendo Switch may well be the whopping eighth major release, but there are some additions in here to fight franchise fatigue. Net result: this has grand slam written all over it.
Recently, I was lucky enough to go hands-on with both Adventure and Freeplay mode. The former starts out as an extremely accessible training mode (where Dry Bones teaches you everything, even how to toss a ball up to serve it). In short order, skill-based mini challenges are layered in as you traverse a top-down map not unlike the one in the New Super Mario Bros' series. The general idea is to smash your way through all comers and prevent Lucien's return to power by finding five sacred stones in “the forest, the mansion, the snow, sea and the flames”.
These early challenges revolve around using the left stick to surgically aim your shots while knowing when to use specific shot types. Your basic shots are topspin, slice and flat (A, B and X respectively) and these are colour coded with a tennis ball trail to let you know which is which.
More advanced techniques include cooking up a charged shot by holding down your buttons. Zone Shots require you to run to an obviously marked area and tap R to do some Neo from The Matrix stuff. Time will slow, your character will leap into the air and there's a small window to use the gyroscope to place a return shot via a first-person view. Interestingly, the meteoric blast of a Zone Shot can destroy an opponent's racket (everybody has a three-tiered health meter) at which point you'll automatically win the match. However, this violent approach has a counter in the form of holding R to slow down time and better defend with a Zone Speed technique. Players who have expert hand-eye coordination can also rely upon blocking (think: pressing return shot when the ball is mere millimetres away from your moustache).
It's important to note that all of the Zone techniques are fed by an energy meter that's filled by long rallies and charged shots. You can also boost it by using a somewhat cheese-worthy Trick Shot – a timely tap of Y makes you cartwheel from nowhere to get to a shot you have no real business returning. Get your energy meter to full and you can execute a show-pony grand slam called a Special Shot. For example: one tap of L will let Waluigi gyrosmack the ball more or less wherever he pleases at ludicrous speed... after pirouetting about with a rose in his mouth, of course. That dude's such a player.
The game comes from a decent stable of ambidextrous characters (a new feature: you can make anybody you select left-handed). For all-rounders, you have Mario, Luigi and Daisy. Heavy-hitting power types include Wario, Bowser, Donkey Kong, Spike and Chain Chomp. If you feel like being defensive, you ought to gravitate to Waluigi or Bowser Jr., plus there's a technical class made up of Peach and Toadette. Last of all, Toad and Yoshi are speedy while Rosalina and Boo are tricky.
Sometimes these supporting cast members bleed onto the court and change the flow of gameplay
Bonus characters are anybody's guess at this point, but Koopa Troopa being an online tournament unlock seems likely. Whatever the case, Aces looks and runs like a dream. The courts are gorgeously lit and brimming with fan-service details and curious onlookers (like Toads, Shy Guys, Koopa Troopas, Hammer Bros and the always ubiquitous Goombas). Better yet, sometimes these supporting cast members bleed onto the court and change the flow of gameplay, much like we saw in Mario Power Tennis. Relax though, purists: these hazards can be turned off, and it's the same story with the more logic-defying tennis mechanics.
Basically, this court's well in order because Mario Tennis Aces looks to be the next big must-own for the Switch. The four-person multiplayer on offer is sure to please (while causing a racquet for your neighbours) and it's nice that the option is there to play tennis via motion-controlled joypads (though there are no strings attached to do so). Couple all that with the fact that soloists are being served up an ample single-player offering as well, and this game is looking pretty hard to fault.