Inside Pulse 12

Review: Mario Power Tennis (Nintendo Wii)

Mario Power Tennis
Genre: Sports
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 03/09/09


A little over four years ago, Nintendo brought us Mario Power Tennis for the Gamecube. For the most part, that game was quite good. The Mario Tennis franchise, as one might expect, was an attempt by Nintendo and Camelot to simplify video game tennis down to its base elements (hitting a ball over a net) while making the experience delightfully animated and personality-laden. Again, for the most part, Mario Power Tennis was exactly that. Well, since the Gamecube didn’t exactly move a ton of units, most of the people who presently own the Wii have probably missed out on this gem of a game. As such, Nintendo has taken it upon themselves to re-release the game on the Wii, with the extended title of “New Play Control! Mario Power Tennis“, but I’m not about to write out that mess, so we’re going to call it Mario Power Tennis. The idea is certainly sound: take a game no one really had the opportunity to play, re-release it at a reduced price, and give players a second chance to experience a fantastic game! Gamers get to play a great product, and Nintendo basically earns mucho profit for minimum investment. It’s a winning solution across the board.

Unless your memory retains information for longer than four years, in which case, this is less a “winning solution” and more a “wasted opportunity”.

As with most all of the Mario Sports games, there isn’t really a storyline to speak of in Mario Power Tennis, but the bevy of game modes makes up for that. Exhibition Mode allows you to set up single tennis matches with multiple players, both human and CPU, for quick, enjoyable bursts of play. You can play regular ordinary tennis if you want, or you can choose to play with some of the novelty courses and play modes to make things more interesting. There’s also Tournament Mode, which allows you to play through tournaments against the CPU, which can be used to unlock extra goodies. There’s a Special Game Mode, which allows you to play tennis mini-games that involve, say, smacking paintballs at a wall to paint it, feeding a Chain Chomp with tennis balls, rallying against a Blooper, and other amusing things. Exhibition and Tournament Modes allow you to choose Singles or Doubles play, depending on if you want to go it alone or with a partner, and the Exhibition and Special Game modes allow you to play with multiple players for added fun (though Tournaments are solo affairs). You’ll find plenty of fun stuff to do in Mario Power Tennis, both alone and with friends, which is always good, especially for a party-friendly system like the Wii.

Visually, Mario Power Tennis is adorable, thanks to the strong personalities of the Nintendo characters and the bright, colorful courts. The game is visually fantastic and with well designed and lively courts, cute animated characters, and the menu layouts, the game is quite nice to look at across the board.

Aurally, the music is fitting, if not particularly memorable. The characters spout their usual quips and catchphrases (both on-screen and from the Wii-mote), and the sound effects sound about as much like someone hitting a tennis ball as they can. The audio isn’t jaw-dropping or anything, but it’s generally well done, and for a game of this sort, that’s really all you can ask of it.

Now, Mario Power Tennis for the Wii is touted as offering, “new play control”, so as you would expect, most everything you do in the game is done by swinging the Wii-mote instead of pressing a button. All of your shots are handled by swinging the Wii-mote to initiate them, with the direction of the swing dictating the shot type. Swinging horizontally makes a Flat Shot, swinging diagonally upward makes a Topspin Shot, swinging upward makes a Lob, and so on. Adjusting to the swing directions is quite easy, and most players should be able to pick them up in a couple of sessions of play with little difficulty. This is good, because you’ll need to learn how to effectively use these shot types in order to be the best at the game. The CPU will exploit these shots for all it’s worth in later tournaments or on higher difficulty settings, which makes learning how to counter these shots with your own a must. The game can be played with or without a Nunchuck, depending on your preference, and the swing controls don’t change from one style of play to the other. Movement controls controls do however, as the analog stick moves you around in Nunchuck controls, while the D-Pad moves you around when playing with just the Wii-mote. Of the two modes, Nunchuck play is better because it’s generally easier to play, but it’s easy enough to adjust to both modes if you somehow lack a Nunchuck, so no worries there.

Of course, this being a Mario Sports game, the gameplay isn’t JUST a Mario-themed tennis game. There are some odd novelty mechanics on display here as well, by way of Power Shots. In Mario Power Tennis, Power Shots come in two varieties: specialty shots that are hard to return or convey negative effects if returned, and last-minute saving shots that keep you from losing a point when you otherwise SHOULD have. These two types of Power Shots fundamentally turn the classic game of tennis on its head, as what would normally be game-winning shots can be saved at the last second while normal shots can suddenly turn into powerful electric traps that might ruin your otherwise flawless match. By default, these shots will be used at any time that they are available, but skilled players can disable this and instead choose to manually enable these shots, which can be interesting for strategic purposes. Do you store up that Power Shot in case a return goes wild? Do you use the shot as soon as you get it, or keep it stored up until your opponent has burned theirs? This adds an interesting dynamic to the game that regular tennis lacks, which can make tense games even MORE challenging than one might expect. Now, in fairness, you CAN disable these shots, but why would you? The weirdness of the Power Shots is a big part of the charm of the game, and it goes a long way towards making Mario Power Tennis a fun time.

Besides the Power Shots, there are also a few novelty courses that change the dynamics of play by introducing expanding and shrinking courses, courses that become stained with mud that slows your movement, and other weird gimmicks that can make playing more challenging for you and/or your opponents, depending on who’s better at exploiting these things. There are also “Ring Shot” and “Item Battle” gimmicks that can be enabled on regular courses, with the former being more about earning points than winning sets of tennis (though each ties directly to the other), and the latter being about hurting your opponents with random items, not unlike a tennis-themed version of Mario Kart. These gimmicks aren’t quite as interesting as the actual tennis games themselves, but they’re still fairly fun and interesting enough to visit more than once.

There’s a good amount of depth to the game too, thanks to the Tournament Mode. Tournament Mode is where you’ll spend a good amount of your time, as it’s where you’ll unlock almost all of the extra stuff in the game. You can play in Singles or Doubles tournaments, with each tournament consisting of multiple cups, each of which is three matches long. Plowing through the tournaments is the way to unlock all of the characters and courts, as well as a few other novelties, but don’t think it’ll be a cakewalk. The computer ramps up progressively as you play, meaning that you’ll have to increase your game skills if you want to get the most out of the game. You can also, as mentioned previously, play around with the tennis-themed mini-games alone or with friends. While these don’t unlock anything but more modes to the mini-games, they’re an interesting diversion from playing actual tennis and will be lots of fun in groups. Make no mistake: Mario Power Tennis is meant to be played with friends, and in that respect, it shines.

That said, Mario Power Tennis is, as noted, a re-release of the Gamecube game of the same name, and as such, it is functionally an identical game. Now, obviously, if you already own that game, you don’t need to own THIS game, as it’s the same game, but it’s a shame that virtually NOTHING has been added to the game. Aside from the Wii-mote controls and some widescreen display support, this re-release is identical to its Gamecube counterpart. Granted, the original game was fantastic, but some original content wouldn’t have hurt things any. How about some Wii-exclusive courts, or some character rebalancing, or some Wii-exclusive characters, or SOMETHING to make the game worth the investment for players who own the Gamecube game? Considering you can find the Gamecube version for around the same price as the Wii re-release, it seems silly that more content couldn’t have been added to the game. Of course, that isn’t a HUGE complaint, since the Wii is all about multiplayer games, so Mario Power Tennis still fits in nicely along-side the roster of other great party games, right?

Not quite.

Okay, so the lack of new content in this Wii re-release means, as you’d expect, that there’s no online multiplayer support at all. This is not, by itself, a crippling issue, though it essentially means that Mario Power Tennis is going to be less useful to players with a love of online multiplayer than games like Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Mario Kart Wii, and Mario Strikers Charged. Still, plenty of awesome multiplayer games on the console don’t support online play, so again, that’s understandable. What ISN’T understandable is the fact that Nintendo apparently decided that “New Play Control!” meant that the old play controls SHOULD BE REMOVED. Thus, no Gamecube controller support, no Classic Controller support, and no holding the Wii-mote like a controller. You either flail or you don’t play. Now, dismissing the argument that the original game featured Gamecube controls because it was a Gamecube game and hey, it should have been easy enough to add Wii-mote controls IN ADDITION TO the classic controls, it still bears noting that the aforementioned Mario Kart Wii and Super Smash Brothers Brawl are BOTH compatible with the Classic Controller and the Gamecube controller, and are infinitely better games for this very reason. Some games absolutely benefit from the sort of controls that the Wii-mote offers, but Mario Power Tennis isn’t one of them. While the game is absolutely playable, it’s significantly easier to remember that pressing a direction and a button performs a specific kind of shot than it is remembering what direction one must swing in to make a shot work. This is further compounded when one realizes that knowing what shot is coming in multiplayer games is far easier when your opponent is flailing their arms in a certain direction than it is when they’re pressing a button or two. This makes games against friends more about watching their movements than anticipating shots, which is somewhat less challenging and intense than it should me.

In the end, Mario Power Tennis is still a good tennis game, but it’s just not as good as it COULD, or SHOULD, have been. It still looks and sounds great, and there are still plenty of awesome game modes to choose from. The game is still fun to play, alone or with friends, and there are still plenty of things to unlock for players who want to do this. There’s nothing new to entice players who’ve played the Gamecube version of the game, however, and the lack of online play makes the game a bit less impressive than other Nintendo-made multiplayer Wii titles. Further, the Wii-controls aren’t any better, and in some cases are WORSE, than the Gamecube controls, and the lack of support for the Gamecube or Classic controllers is astonishing and not even a remotely good decision. If you’ve never played Mario Power Tennis, the Wii version is certainly a fine enough version to invest in, and the game itself is still certainly lots of fun and worth playing, but the knowledge that the game could have been better than it ultimately is sours the game somewhat.

The Scores:
Game Modes: GOOD
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: GREAT
Balance: GREAT
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: BAD
Final Score: ENJOYABLE.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Mario Power Tennis, even four years later, is still a fantastic game, but this particular version of it? Not so much. The game still offers a bevy of gameplay modes and gimmicks that are lots of fun, it still looks and sounds great, and it’s still as charming and amusing as it’s ever been. The game is still fairly fun to play and the Wii specific controls are usable enough that anyone can jump in and play without a problem. That said, there’s very little changed or improved in this re-release of a four year old game, which is disappointing considering how many things COULD have been added to make the game worth owning even if you’d earned the Gamecube game. Further, it doesn’t compare well to other multiplayer-centric Wii games, thanks to a lack of online play and a lack of control options, making it more of a party game diversion than a must-own title. If you’re a fan of novelty sports games or you love multiplayer games, Mario Power Tennis is still well worth checking out… it’s just unfortunate that there really isn’t MORE to the product.