The Mushroom Kingdom is awash with love — tennis-score wise. Mario and his friends are busy getting in shape, playing tennis in the new Mario Tennis Open, an exclusive game for the Nintendo 3DS. It's fast action fun, but it's not a grand slam.
By Jinny Gudmundsen
With Mario Tennis Open, players challenge the Mushroom Kingdom gang to ball-slamming competition in either singles or doubles across a wide range of courts. You can control your favorite characters, including Mario, Wario, Princess Peach and others, or play as your favorite Mii (a character you design on your Nintendo 3DS). When playing as the latter, you can use earned coins to purchase equipment at an in-game store that slightly increases your Mii's playing ability.
In addition to playing tennis with the Mario characters, the game allows you to play against friends and even strangers online. There is no way to text or chat with these strangers when playing the game.
To break up match and tournament play, Mario Tennis also offers a quartet of tennis themed mini-games. In one, you are trying to hit tennis balls through floating rings that appear on the court. In another, you are hitting against a backboard that shows scenes from an older, classic Mario platform game. None of these mini-games is particularly compelling, but they do earn you coins.
It is pretty easy to open this game and enter a tennis match. Controls can be as simple as moving your character by using the 3DS's circle pad and then tapping the screen to make your character swing a racket. You can also tap buttons and use the multi-directional pad. There's even a new, unique alternative control system called "Dynamic View" that allows you to hold your 3DS upright — you view the court as if you were actually standing on it. Character movement in this view becomes automatic as you swing the 3DS around to line up the ball and then tap the lower surface to swing. For kids new to playing this kind of sports game, this Dynamic View method makes playing the game a breeze.
As with real tennis, you have some choice of shots. The bottom touch screen will fill with either a 3-shot panel or a 6-shot panel. These panels divide the screen into colored sections with shot names. You select which shot you want to use by tapping the appropriate section. For those who don't want to think about shots, they need only to tap the "Simple" shot area; and the game automatically performs the best shot for you. You can also select Topspin, Flat Shot, Slice, Lob and Drop Shot. This tennis game uses special "chance shots" where glowing colored rings appear on the court. If you move your character into one of these rings and then tap on the colored section of the shot panel that corresponds with the color of the glowing ring, a powered-up shot will occur that has a higher probability of being a winner. These chance shots create fun visuals if you decide to watch an instant replay of your point.
For players who enjoy tennis or kids wanting to learn the game, Mario Tennis Open isn't a bad choice. It will teach you how to play and score. But for Mario fans looking for typical Mushroom Kingdom wonkiness and good-humored antics, these are missing from this game. And that's a real shame. Unpredictable silliness is an important hallmark of Mario games that makes them so charming to play.
With no story line, no over-the-top antics, and just a few mini-games, this is really all about playing tennis. It is nice that you can go online and take on real players. We also enjoyed being able to play with friends over a local wireless network. But we wished for more — something to keep us going.
Parents considering getting this game for their children need to remember that this is on the Nintendo 3DS and that Nintendo warns against letting kids ages 6 and under play on it with the 3D turned on because "it may cause vision damage." Parents can turn off the 3D under parental controls on the device. We found that we didn't need the 3D images to play.
Bottom line: Mario Tennis Open is OK as a tennis game, but lacking as a Mario experience.
Mario Tennis Open
Score: 2.5 stars (out of 4)
Best for age 7-up
Publisher: Nintendo, http://mariotennisopen.nintendo.com
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Gudmundsen is the editor of Computing With Kids magazine (www.ComputingwithKids.com). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.