It's not the size of the racket....
The 3DS has been on a steady climb since the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. A pair of remakes and a string of classic franchises in a new dimension (literally) have made for quite the appetizing library. Why does it feel like we're entering the Mario [Insert Sport Here] era too soon?
It's hard to believe gaming's favorite plumber could be out of ideas so quickly after Super Mario 3D Land's fantastic reception. Does Mario Tennis Open stand on its own as a legitimate title for the successor to the wildly popular Nintendo DS?
Open sees the return of Mario's cadre of sportsmen and women... and dinosaurs... and ghosts. You get the idea. There are championship tournaments, exhibitions, and multiplayer modes, in addition to bonus modes that play more like minigames than an actual sport.
That said, you might find the most enjoyment in directing a game of Super Mario Bros with your racket and a tennis ball while Ring Mode plays exactly as it sounds. The most challenging and rewarding of these special modes is Galaxy Rally which has you face off in an interstellar match where platforms can disappear under your feet.
The real star in Mario Tennis Open is... you, apparently. You can play online or against the computer with your Mii character and deck him or her out in the apparel you unlock by winning championships. You can earn items as you ascend the ladder and then use the points you earn from playing matches and Special Mode games to buy them in the shop.
Mario Tennis Open also represents a continued foray into stable, fun, and deep online modes. Leaderboards let you know exactly where you stand in the world, but if you're not in it to compete, you can hop online and have fun with quick or extended matches.
Again, I can't stress enough how nice it is to play an online match without lag or dropped connections in a Nintendo title. It's a universal truth that as soon as you do something right after having done it terribly for years, you're going to score points.
Local multiplayer is also available in adhoc or multicard modes. You can play in doubles in any combination of up to four players. It was almost more fun to pair up with CPU players so we could blame our errors on them. That couldn't be said very often though, because the AI is so darn tricky.
While the higher levels can get pretty annoying, the AI has improved over Mario Tennis generations and now sidesteps the "OMG I WANT KILL YOSHI" and lands on "Damn! Yoshi's really good, but I can be better." That's a huge step up for anyone who's played a lot of Mario Tennis 64.
While the game is fairly shallow, the varied control options more than make up for it. Using buttons and the slide-pad is intuitive, easy to learn, difficult to master, and provides the finesse any legit tennis player might require.
If you're into the newfangled motion control schemes, I'm happy to report that Mario Tennis Open does it better than any other title on the 3DS. Holding the 3DS at eye level and turning it to aim around the court is a breeze, and switching back is a snap. What's more, Nintendo smartly disables the 3D effect whether you've got the slider on or not in this perspective.
The motion controls, touch controls, and button controls all work exceedingly well, and giving the player so many options is a genius method of opening the doors for all comers. Even lefties are more than welcome thanks to the easy switching between control schemes.
Although the special modes tire after a few dozen serves and the modes are a little shallow, despite the constant stream of unlockables, Mario and friends are still a blast to play with and letting your Mii join in on the fun is a natural evolution for the roster. As a package, Mario Tennis Open isn't a killer app, but it's another must-have title for 3DS owners.