Mario Tennis Aces is (somehow) my first ever Mario Tennis game, and I can’t say it has made me anxious for a sequel. This barebone but full-priced title includes a brief story mode that packs some extreme difficulty with RPG levelling that doesn’t seem to impact gameplay, online play that is heavily impacted by poor network connections, a motion-controlled mode that is so clunky it will make you miss Wii Sports tennis, and no pure tennis mode.
The story-based adventure mode has you play as Mario on a quest to stop an evil tennis racket from collecting various coloured power stones that it will use for evil. Not exactly thrilling, but Mario games aren’t known for their deep plots. Stages range from simple matches against other characters to rally challenges and even boss fights.
While the plot may not deliver, the adventure mode does a good job of teaching you the ins and outs of the gameplay mechanics in preparation for playing online and is challenging but fair apart from two matches that took me at least a couple of hours to conquer each.
From a casual perspective, the core gameplay of Mario Tennis Aces is great, with plenty of depth from the different types of swings that can be mapped to each face button of the Switch. Trick shots essentially serve as dives in any direction to get a ball that would normally be out of reach. There’s also a power meter that can be filled by charging upswings before hitting the ball. This meter can be used to slow down time, aim motion controllable power shots, and signature moves for each character. Simple enough for anyone to play, with enough depth to be fun.
However, from a competitive perspective, Mario Tennis Aces leave much to be desired. The current online meta seems mostly built around seeing who can break the other player’s racket first, instead of earnest games of tennis. Power shots must be returned with perfect timing, otherwise, your racket takes damage and eventually breaks. As you only have two rackets a match, this can happen rather quickly. While story mode somewhat prepares you for this by throwing a couple of enemies at you that essentially can’t be beaten without breaking their racket, they are the least fun moments in the game.
Mario Tennis Aces feels rushed due to a lack of content and especially from a quality of life perspective. The adventure mode has text before and after each match, with only the text before the match being skippable. This means some of the tougher matches that require multiple attempts will force you to see a character that lets you know how bad you are over and over (that character will probably be Blooper, in case you’re wondering).
There is no option to quickly retry or restart a match, meaning you’ll have to quit out of the match and go back in, sitting through multiple load screens. Also lacking is the ability to play a standard tennis match where the first to six sets wins, instead the only option is best of three, as well as the option to select the stage you’d like to play on. Many characters from adventure mode are—strangely—not playable, with some announced as free DLC releasing in the coming months for playing tournaments online. My girl Birdo isn’t even here at all, which is heartbreaking. Even the music variety is lacking with only a handful of tracks, none of them being memorable.