Has Camelot developed another power smash, or did they duff one into the net?
Before I get into this review, let me explain one thing about tennis. Tennis is about skill level. Not only is defeating your opponent the main focus of the game, how you do it is just as important. And keep in mind that this is coming from an individual who grew up playing tennis and has participated in many tournaments. With this said, Mario Power Tennis is one of the most frustrating games I have ever played as it rewards poorly skilled players and shuns experienced ones.
If you played Mario Tennis on N64, then you will know how Power Tennis plays. The player has the option to choose from a wealthy number of popular Nintendo characters such as Mario, Peach, Yoshi, DK, Boo, and Wario. Each playable court is colorful and displays an environment from past Nintendo games. While the playable characters and courts are a great selling point, Power Tennis suffers tremendously in the game play department. Just like Mario Tennis 64, Power Tennis uses the same poorly designed play control. Before you make contact with the ball, a double tap of the “A” button will create a topspin shot. In addition, double tapping “B” will create a flatter shot. However, a lob shot is created by tapping “A” then “B” or a drop shot with “B” then “A.” I really do not understand the mentality of this. Why should I hit multiple button combinations when there are plenty of other buttons to hit on the controller? Who wants to hit (and remember) a button combination when they can easily tap a single button?
With some forgiveness, I can understand why this control scheme was done in the N64 game. The Gameboy Color game of the same name was also created using the same button structure because of the limited amount of buttons on the system’s hardware. Using a transfer pak, information from both games could be exchanged to unlock new characters. Keeping the same play control between the two systems was important when linking the two games together. However, there is no need for this in the GC’s Power Tennis. Currently, there are no plans of making a Mario Tennis for GBA which means that they could have used any button structure. And even if there was a GBA game with GC to GBA linkability, all four of the GBA’s buttons could be used to create a different type of shot.
The only difference between Power Tennis and the N64’s brethren, is the inclusion of Power Shots. Instead of making the game fun, these power shots actually rot the game like a Halloween pumpkin still sitting outside your house at Christmas time. After about five returns of the tennis ball, your character’s racket will begin to glow. This glow indicates that a power shot can be performed. Another stupid button combination of “A” or “B” with a “L” or “R” will create a defensive save or an offensive smash. But why should a player with a low skill level be rewarded with such power? For example: I return my opponent’s rally with a powerful shot that lands just inside the line. There is absolutely no chance for any type of return. This means that I not only hit a successful gutsy shot, but I also set up my opponent to be out of position. For my hard work and high skill level, I should be rewarded with a point. However, thanks to the brainless Power Shot feature, any player can return my “impossible to return” shot with one of these super save shots which involves the player miraculously diving across the screen. If I clearly beat my opponent on a point, why should he be given a second chance? Power shots help the sucky players and hold down the experienced ones. That just does not make sense.
Not only are the power shots a big flaw in this frustrating game, but they are also poorly executed. When a power shot is activated, the camera zooms in Matrix style where the corresponding character will perform some type of over-the-top animation. Once this silly animation is over, the character will return the ball with a smash as the camera zooms back out. More often than not, the camera’s zooming will confuse the player because the ball can easily be lost on the screen, especially with Bowser Jr.’s paintbrush power slam. Bowser Jr takes out his magic paintbrush from Mario Sunshine and smashes the ball with it, leaving behind a trail of brightly colored paint. The splattered paint blends with the ball so well, that the player will never even see the ball. Not only are the power shots restricting to highly skilled players, they will also get lost on screen. Plus, there is no option to turn the Power Shots off when playing Tournament mode. Nothing is more frustrating when the game is programmed to cheat the player.
These Power Shots can be set up to be executed automatically through computer assistance in the options menu. If this option is selected, the computer will automatically launch your power shot when you have enough energy stored up. At least, that is what the game tells you when you choose this option. Many times the computer never used my power shot for me, especially when I could have used my diving defensive save. But this is a different story when playing against a computer controlled opponent. The A.I. will hit a power shot after every five shots, and save the ball every time the player should win the point. Again, the game cheats the player. Power Shots make each point go on for longer than it should. Nothing is more frustrating than knowing that you just beat your opponent on a point, but they get a merciful second (or third, or fouth?) chance.
There are some other small imperfections as well. Just like in the Mario Tennis 64, a useless instant replay will immediately follow every single point. Being a tennis player myself, even I can realize that watching a replay in a tennis match can be boring. Sure, I can understand seeing a highlight every now and then, but having a replay after every point is just plain annoying. To make matters worse, there is no option to turn off the replays. Tapping the button needlessly after every point is incredibly frustrating. Once again, it is also a pain to play on the far court, or far side of the screen. The proportions of the character model’s speed to court size just don’t seem right. Luckily, the Player Cam can be chosen if playing a single player match. This will force the camera to always position itself behind the player. But you are out of luck when playing multiplayer matches.
The entire game play in Mario Power Tennis is flawed, but there are some fun and creative ideas lying within the mini games. Only a few mini games are available when you first boot up the game, but many more will be unlocked later. Feeding chain chomps, playing on goopy courts from Mario Sunshine, and collecting coins in the retro court are fun, but they are hindered by the shoddy play control.
The best part about this game are the graphics. Just like Camelot’s Mario Golf, each character is a well-detailed and animated 3D model. Characters from many Nintendo games are spectators in the backgrounds. Courts are interactive. And the menu system is clean. Plus, the opening FMV is extremely well done and comical. I especially liked the clock in the background. The game actually reads the time set into your GameCube and is produced in the court’s background. On the other hand, the music seems replayed from Mario Tennis 64, but it still fits the mood of the game. The voice over work is great too. This also adds to comical theme of the game.
The multiplayer mode is probably the best way to play this game. But playing with three players is extremely unfair as one player will be partnered with a weak CPU player. But the mini games will add replay value as will the many unlockables.
The bottom line is, if you already own Mario Tennis 64, or value your skill as a tennis player, there is no need to play Mario Power Tennis. The game is essentially the same as it was on N64, with the exception of more mini games, better graphics, and a horrible Power Shot system. The poorly designed power shot idea is enough to force any buyer of this game to ship their copy on a one-way trip to hell. And yes, it does pain me to say this considering I love what Camelot did with the Golden Sun series and Mario Gold Advance Tour. But I cannot shake the fact that this game holds down veteran players but raises the pedestal for amateurs. Just stay away from this game and go back to playing Virtua Tennis instead.