Video Game Review
Developed by: Camelot
Published by: Nintendo
The Nintendo 64 spawned a renaissance in Mario sports titles mostly due to the fact that the only games that were selling on the system were fun multiplayer experiences. Mario Tennis is fun and is a multiplayer experience which makes the game a perfect fit for the system. However, as a Nintendo 64 game, it could have been better. It looks good and plays good but still feels lacking.
Mario Tennis is a tennis game that features a good portion of the characters from the Mushroom Kingdom (and Donkey Kong). Each character has their strengths and weaknesses. Not all the characters are available in the beginning and need to be unlocked by playing through the game. Nintendo also made use of the Transfer Pak which allows players to transfer their character over from the Game Boy Color version of Mario Tennis (sold separately). The courses are just as unique as the characters in that they have their advantages and disadvantages (like ball bounce and speed). There are also special courses to unlock; each with their own unique flavour.
The core part of Mario Tennis is the championship mode which puts players in various tournaments. Winning tournaments earns trophies and unlocks players. The championship mode can be played under singles or double conditions.
The extra modes are actually quite skimpy if you compare this title to Mario Golf. The Ring Mode offers a challenge and it’s not easy to clear. The goal is to get as many rings before the preset condition ends (i.e., before someone wins the game). It’s interesting because it forces the player to keep rallies going or make sure they’re accurate with their shot. During a rally, if the opponent hits the ball through the rings, it will count towards the player’s score if the player ends up winning the rally. However, if the player loses the rally, they also lose all the rings collected during that rally.
The Bowser Court is a mix between tennis and Mario Kart. The court wobbles all around while players are rallying. This can be problematic if one plays close to the lines as a wobble at the wrong time can cause a ball that was going to stay inbounds to fall outside the line. The course also contains item blocks that act like they do in other Mario titles (i.e., bananas trip people up, red shells are like heat-seeking missiles). It’s fun a few times but feels very gimmicky and loses all lustre only after a few playthroughs.
The controls are easy enough for amateur players. Those who aren’t all that experienced with video games can easily make do by hitting the A button to have the player they control swing their racket. However, more experienced gamers and those who want to excel in the game will have to do a little more than hitting the A button. Using the B button or hitting the A and B buttons sequentially (or vice versa) will give players a wider variety of types of shots to choose from. The controls are spot on and make it very easy to play the game whether the player rarely plays video games or is a seasoned vet.
The game looks really good although there are two things that need to be considered: this is a game made near the end of the Nintendo 64’s life-cycle so the developers knew all the tricks the system could pull off and it’s a tennis game so it doesn’t require much graphical horsepower to look good.
There’s much to say about the sound. It does the job but it’s nothing to climb the rooftops and pledge an undying love about. The music fits the bill although the sound bites from the characters can get annoying after a while. For the most part though, the sound is an aspect of the game that feels unnoticeable.
The game is good if you’re looking for a tennis game on the Nintendo 64. There’s not that many and, other than Mario Tennis, they’re junk. However, Mario Tennis feels very underwhelming. Compared to Virtua Tennis on the Dreamcast (which came out at the same time), the game feels very bare bones. Even compared to Mario Golf, the other Nintendo-Camelot sports title on the 64, the game feels very lacking. However, while the tournament mode is uninspiring and the Bowser court is annoying, the overall gameplay does play better than anything else out there for the system (and is even better than many other Tennis games on other systems before or after its release).
One feature that falls a little flat is the Game Boy link-up. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the mode but considering that the GBC Mario Tennis is a better game, the only real benefit to the link package is linking the two games will give players more experience points for their characters in the Game Boy game. Definitely not worth buying the Nintendo 64 game and tracking down a Transfer Pak.
Despite these hang-ups, it’s still easy to have fun with this game. Playing this game against another person is great (and another piece of evidence that playing with someone in the same room is way better than online multiplayer). The ring mode is extremely enjoyable and is one of the best training-like modes in any sports game. It’s a blast to play and it makes you a better player.
To call Mario Tennis a cash-in title to satisfy the limited market for N64 tennis games would be selling this title a bit short. Even though at times it feels like Camelot phoned it in and Nintendo didn’t care, Mario Tennis still manages to be a decent package. Sure, it’s not that much a step above some of the better titles on the 16-bit systems but it still provides some pretty good tennis action with almost no hiccups. However, this game is only a must-buy for those who only have a Nintendo 64, are huge fans of Mario, or a massive fan of the video game tennis genre. Otherwise, the game is only worthwhile if you can pick it up for cheap and you don’t already have a favourite tennis game.