For two weeks every year, Britain goes crazy for tennis. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but that fortnight always coincides with Wimbledon and the hopes of a home-grown winner being pinned on Andy Murray’s shoulders once more – he’s doing pretty well so far, don’t you think? It’s the perfect time, you’d suppose, for a tennis game or two to be released, but sadly, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash isn’t out until some time later this year.
Mario’s a slightly unlikely character to be a tennis ace, but as we know from countless games, he and all the characters from the Mushroom Kingdom are a dab hand at whatever sport they turn their hand to. One minute it’s sinking holes in one on a golf course, the next they’re racing round in karts, before maybe playing a few sets prior to heading off to bed for the night. When they’re not busy kidnapping one another, they seem to have a lot of fun.
Ultra Smash carries on from the same style of easy-going, arcade tennis gameplay that was first established by Camelot on the N64, with nearly identical gameplay to the 3DS game. There’s generally plenty of time to react to shots, and it’s very forgiving with that timing, so you can get to play some nice rallies, rather than the quick back and forth that you tend see in the real world sport.
Top spin and slice shots live on the A and B buttons respectively, with a double tap now letting you jump to get something that would otherwise sail right over your head, while also sending the ball back harder and faster if you charge the shot up a little and time things well. Drop shots and the like are then achieved by quickly going from one button to the other, meaning they require just an ever-so-slight touch of fighting game prowess to pull them off successfully.
Also continuing through from Mario Tennis on 3DS are the concept of Chance Shots. As you play, coloured circles pop up on the floor, giving you the opportunity to get a more powerful shot when you send the ball back across the net which can, if you strike your opponent, spin them round or knock them back, depending on the kind of shot it is. That aspect is dictated by the colour of the circle, with yellow denoting that you have to hit a standard top-spin shot, blue gives you a wickedly curving slice, and so on, as long as you press the right button… or the X button to play a less powerful version of the relevant shot automatically – X lets the game decide an appropriate shot, for some simple single button play.
But the big new addition to the gameplay, if you’ll excuse the mild pun, is where Mega Mushrooms are intermittently thrown on court. Running through them triggers a transformation cinematic, as you grow to dwarf the other players on the court for a minutes or so. For the duration, it doesn’t just give you a much, much closer look at the weave of Mario’s dungarees or Bowser’s spikey shell, but also gives you a serious height and power advantage, where your shots will easily push the opposing player back a few metres as they struggle to return the ball.
Consuming such performance enhancing mushrooms would certainly be frowned upon by the ATP and WTA – and let’s not discuss whether or not Toad would be committing a form of cannibalism – but there’s a really nice interplay in singles, where one player gets a mushroom 10-20 seconds before the other side, evening out the unfair advantage over time. In doubles, it can be much less predictable, as it doles out mushrooms in the direction of the four players in a random order – though they can be picked up by either of the two players.
You can argue that the Chance Shot and Mega Mushroom gameplay mechanics detract from the sport itself, but Mario Tennis plays to an audience who just want a quick an easy tennis game to pick up and play and have a bit of fun with. Just from the inclusion of the ‘simple shot’ button, you can tell that accessibility and simplicity are at its core.
There’s been a tennis game drought over the last few years, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the sport, the wait will have to continue. If you’re after some arcade-like tennis fun though, then it looks like Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash will do just that without even breaking a sweat.