LTTP (Attempt): Mario Tennis (And Where Are The Tennis Video Games?)

This should probably go down as more of an attempt at a Late To The Party investigation than an actual one. One of the Nintendo franchises I’d ignored over the years was Mario Tennis, and I decided to take a few hours to try one out. Too bad it ended up being probably the worst game in the series if the general consensus I’ve seen is correct.

I didn’t look at reviews or anything. I kind of just assumed Nintendo would maintain some nominal level of quality between all the entries like it more or less does with the mainline Mario games, the Zelda games, or more importantly Mario Kart — the standard by which I choose to set my expectations for Nintendo sports games. I simply decided to rent the latest Mario Tennis game — Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash for the Wii U (I have a Wii U now).

When the first openly-branded Mario Tennis came out on the N64 in 2000 if I recall I was too busy with Virtua Tennis on the Dreamcast to really give it a look. I understand Mario Tennis was the more well-known game at the time, but I was more enamored with SEGA’s rendition of the game which managed to look simultaneously accessible yet evocative of a hard simulator (this was before Top Spin, which desperately needs a new current-generation entry). Now there aren’t really any new tennis games, except Ultra Smash.

In a previous LTTP post I went into Mario Golf expecting some sort of crazy approximation of golf augmented by mushrooms, turtle shells, power stars, and fire flowers. What I got was… golf, but with Mario and the gang. I guess some of the courses were kind of crazy but it was much less of a video game-like twist on golf and more of a golf simulator. This is pretty much what has happened with Ultra Smash.

From what I’ve read however, previous editions of Mario Tennis did indeed include fun, party-focused modes with lots of Mario-style power-ups to make it into its own game. One of the Game Boy versions was even essentially an RPG. It’s just that the Wii U one for some reason doesn’t have any of that. You get a mushroom every now and then but other than that it’s not so different from Virtua Tennis. I never actually figured out what the buttons do in Ultra Smash but I was able to go into it with my Virtua Tennis muscle memory and pretty much dominate the AI.

This disappoints me because of everything Nintendo has been able to put into Mario Kart. That game is fun because it’s not just racing, but a vehicular combat game with all kinds of unique Nintendo mechanics that just happens to be about karts. I expected the same approach in Nintendo’s other sports games.

Maybe it was all the resources Nintendo could muster to put out a tennis game with modern (relatively speaking) graphics. What’s odd is this game represents the first time I’ve settled down and played a game where I get to see Mario and his friends rendered in HD graphics. Most people have probably already gotten over it but it still looks really impressive to me, despite the gulf that exists between the Wii U and the PS4, much less the PC on which I play most of my games.

Anyway, I’m told the Gamecube edition of Mario Tennis is in fact the definitive console one, but I’m not sure if or when I’ll find the time to try it. Man, we really need some more tennis games. SEGA announced Virtua Tennis 5 some time ago right?


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