Of wrenches and rackets.
I'm getting concerned about Mario's health. As a wildly successful Italian stereotype, he obviously eats a tremendous amount of pasta and therefore is ingesting far too many carbs, even for a fictional character. A steady diet of giant mushrooms and raw turtles can't be good for the mid-section, either.
So it's nice to see he's taken up a more active sport than plumbing and golf. His latest endeavor is tennis, and despite Mario's ever-increasing girth, it turns out he's pretty handy with a racket. Mario
Power Tennis is a solid Gamecube game that manages to squeeze in just enough of that intangible Nintendo magic to keep things lively and interesting for gamers both young and old.
Unlike many other Mario games, no one tries to explain why the Mario gang has suddenly decided to start playing tennis, or who exactly built all these enormous tennis stadiums and courts. There is, however, a strange, lengthy intro movie featuring Wario and Waluigi teaming up with Bowser in attempt to improve their tennis skills and blow up the world or something. Huh? Looks like someone's been eating the wrong kind of mushrooms.
Once you get past the insane premise, you'll find a fairly standard game of console
tennis. You can choose from an array of Mario-land talent to take to the court
in a bevy of modes, some more interesting than others.
Familiar faces like the chubby star and his brother, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Donkey
Kong and Diddy Kong (whom I prefer to call 'Puffy Kong') are here next to random
pals like Koopa Troopa, Bowser, Jr. and Shy Guy. The stars fall into six categories:
Power, Speed, Technical, Defensive, All-Around and Tricky. This last group
is the hardest to play against as their shots tend to curve and spin a lot,
so hitting them becomes something of a guessing game.
For the most part, the characters all play similarly as you whack the ball back and forth at one another following the classic rules of tennis. You can apply topspin and backspin or perform lob and drop shots by double-tapping the two shot buttons, a system that works well enough. Those familiar with any tennis game released over the past five years will quickly pick up the gameplay.
The differences between the characters are mainly expressed through their
super shot types. Each character has two super shots, one offensive and one
defensive, that become available after a few volleys. Offensive super shots
are burly and will often stun an opponent, leading to an easy point, while
defensive shots allow you to nail missed balls from anywhere on the court.
There's a nice amount of creativity in the design of these super shots. Mario smacks the hell out of the ball with his giant 'Iron Hammer' move, while Luigi's 'Poltergust Return' lets him whip out a vacuum and suck the ball back into play. Some are a little less useful, such as Puffy Kong's 'Acrobatic Banana' shot and Daisy's lame 'Wonder Flower.' But in general, the various moves make sense and give each character a unique flavor.
In typical Nintendo fashion, there are a ton of ways to play. Exhibition and Tournament modes include no-frills, straightforward tennis matches alongside the much better Gimmick Courts. These wacky, themed variants throw interesting kinks in the normal equation with moving or disappearing ground sections, objects obscuring the path of the ball or other fun, weird obstacles. Item Battles can be played as well, which function just like normal matches but with boxes sprouting up every so often that toss out classic Mario-themed items like shells and mushrooms to screw with the players. Ring Shot is less exciting, simply requiring you to hit the ball through more giant rings than the other guy. These interesting options are buffed out by a bunch of Special games, which let you do weird things like smash balls to paint a giant Mario face or piss off oversized Chain Chomps.
The odd courts and strange game types really give Mario
Power Tennis its legs, so to speak, and toss a nice amount of arcade flair into what is otherwise a pretty simple game. It works especially well as a multiplayer game, although things can get confusing quickly on the Gimmick Courts with four players at once. Hope you're not prone to seizures.
While there's depth to be found exploring the many modes and stuff to unlock
by beating the Tournaments, it all feels a bit light since you can't customize
the players at all. You can get a slightly stronger Star version of each, but
the game would have greatly benefited from the ability to gain new shots or tweak
stats a little. As it is, you'll discover the ins and outs of the characters
within the first couple hours.
Over that time, you'll also notice that the default difficulty setting is way too easy. You'll breeze through the first batch of tournaments rarely losing a point. The difficulty spikes pretty sharply as you near the final match of the final tournament; I got served (hahaha!) by Boo for about two solid hours until I finally beat the bastard. Eventually you'll unlock harder settings, which are essential if you want to maximize the game's somewhat limited shelf life.
Nintendo is synonymous with quality releases, and Mario
Power Tennis is no exception. The graphics are colorful, the action is fast and the framerate is silky smooth, although none of it is very complex. Typical voices pop up from time to time to add some character. Mario sounds more Italian than ever, a fact that surely pleases the National
Italian American Foundation. That's-a spicy organization!
You have to hand it to Mario and Co. – they do what they do very well, even if they don't exactly take big risks. Mario
Power Tennis is a reliable, fun game that puts some nice, new spin on an old sport. If you can look past its limited depth, you'll have a ball.