Mario Tennis Aces may be the Mario Tennis game we’ve all been waiting for, at least from our impressions so far.
The Mario Tennis Aces Pre-Launch Online Tournament Demo is now available to play on the Nintendo Switch until June 3 at 11:59 p.m. PT (2:59 a.m. ET). You get more and more points as you rise higher in tournaments unlocking new characters along the way. The top-tier players will be announced later by Nintendo. You can also earn Mario’s classic outfit in the release version of the game just by participating in the demo.
Now I haven’t played a Mario Tennis game since Mario Power Tennis, arguably the pinnacle of the series, all the way back on the GameCube. But from what I’ve heard of the later games, I’m not missing much. The last game, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, was especially considered lukewarm compared to its predecessors.
While I’ve only played a few hours of the demo, I can already tell that Mario Tennis Aces will be different. For those craving the accessible tennis gameplay with the strategy and depth the series was known for, this is the game to deliver it.
The core gameplay is no different from previous entries, with players moving around the court while keeping a rally going. Each of the different types of shots are mapped to one of the face buttons, allowing you to vary your shots easily and trip up opponents. You could do a drop shot after pushing the opponent from the net with strong charged shots or lull the opponent into a false sense of security with slow slice shots before going in with a speedy flat shot.
The Star Shot mechanic returns, where shots that went up easily can be returned with extra power when making a flat shot from the star-shaped spot on the court. This can be essential for breaking rallies.
Adding to your options are the different characters. You can choose from balanced players like Mario to heavy hitters like Bowser and weaker yet faster and more technical players like Peach or Yoshi.
What really takes this game to new heights, however, is the brand new energy mechanic. As you continue rallies and make charge shots, your energy builds up. If you have enough, you can perform a Zone Shot on a Star Point where your character leaps into the air and can pinpoint exactly where they hit the ball on the opponent’s side of the court. The opponent can block a Zone Shot if they hit it right when the ball reaches them, but mistiming it deteriorates their racket. If the energy meter is full, you can unleash a Special Shot, a stronger version of the Zone shot that can completely break the opponent’s racket if they fail to block it. Having all of your rackets broken will cost you the match.
Energy can be also used defensively. Zone Speed lets you slow down time so that you can move faster than normal, allowing you to save out of reach balls. You can also use Trick Shots, risky moves that have the character use acrobatics to hit far away balls and increase energy (or lose it if their timing is off).
While all of these mechanics can be daunting when taken all at once, each one has their purpose in a match as well as their weaknesses. Zone Shots are a great way to break rallies but it can cost you a point if you aim the ball out of bounds or hit the net. Zone Speed and Trick Shots can be absolute lifesavers (with the latter being especially satisfying to pull off) but they can both cost energy that could be better used for Zone Shots or Special Shots. You can even counter a Special Shot with your own Special Shot.
Now reflexes, good timing, and predicting the opponent’s actions aren’t the only determinants of success. Smart management and buildup of energy is just as important and really separates the novice player from the experienced one. It does a great job of adding tactical depth to the game while keeping the core gameplay simple and easy to grasp.
I’m definitely not the best player around, but a game with strong competitive gameplay will make you determined to get better and Mario Tennis Aces definitely does that.
All that being said, I did find the controls to be a bit sensitive, especially when running around the court. You really have to commit to each action you make.
Online play is very speedy and you’ll be in a match in well under a minute. However the experience can be destroyed if you have a bad connection. That’s mostly on my part, though, but the lag can make things virtually unplayable.
I appreciate the Controls and Tips menu. The rules of Tennis that flew over my head as a kid are clearly explained in this section, along with the controls and function of each of the different shots.
I also appreciate the few options you have for controls. You can turn off Gyroscope controls for aiming Zone Shots, though I think they work fine. You can switch between right and left-handed play. When the full release drops, you can even choose to play in Simple Mode which eschews the energy mechanic altogether with players using nothing but their skill with the basic mechanics.
The graphics are nice and slick, but it’s the artistic touches that really bring it out. The animations for each character beautifully exemplify their personalities, especially the over the top Special Shots with Bowser setting fire to his racket and Waluigi striking a fabulous pose. The music, or at least what’s there in the demo, is fantastic as well. And the HD Rumble vibrating in time with the heartbeat sound effect when serving during a match point is just great.
Nintendo has given Mario Tennis Aces a lot of prominent screen time in its last few Nintendo Directs, and now I can see why. I greatly enjoyed my time with Mario Tennis Aces so far, and I can only imagine it getting better with the Story Mode and the addition of more gimmicky courts and game modes. The gameplay is tight and has the great balance of accessibility and tactics we’ve all come to love from Nintendo. We’ll have to wait until June 22 for the full release to give our full thoughts on it, but so far it’s very promising.
Also you can play as Waluigi and a Chain Chomp and that’s just the best.
What do you think of the game from what you’ve played of the demo? Let us know in the comment section below.
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