Reviewed by: Jake Martin
"Mario Tennis Aces serves up some fun in online modes, but falls flat in the story department."
Mario has just finished smoking Bowser in tennis when Wario and Waluigi show up looking shady as all get-out. They have this ominous tennis racket, clearly imbued with evil powers, and kindly offer it to Mario as a “gift.” Mario smartly refuses, but then, right on time, his bumbling dingus of a brother, Luigi, decides to grab the racket for himself consequently unleashing darkness upon the entire Mushroom Kingdom. It’s once again up to Mario to save everyone, only this time, with his outstanding tennis skills.
While the story isn’t groundbreaking, Mario Tennis Aces is the first Mario Tennis game to have a story mode since Mario Tennis: Power Tour on the Gameboy Advance in 2005.
In Aces, players navigate as Mario through an overworld with different terrains like a jungle, the ocean, a snow-capped mountain, and of course, a volcano. In these differing areas you'll engage in a certain tennis-related challenge, that once completed, will allow you to progress further on the map.
Unfortunately, outside of a few clever levels here-and-there, the story mode feels bland and rushed. Some of the later game story mode challenges are also crushingly difficult and I’m glad that I played Aces after they patched in a retry option or else I might have lost my mind.
Gameplay in Mario Tennis Aces is easy to learn, but difficult to master. New additions like the Zone Shots, Zone Speed, and Special Shots are a welcome change to the core tennis gameplay. You must use these abilities sparingly because each use depletes your energy meter that is filled when charging up for a shot or hitting the ball consecutively. The combination of core tennis knowledge and powerful abilities makes for an exciting back-and-forth between you and your opponent.
If that sounds like a little bit too much, fans of previous installations might be more inclined to try their hand at “simple mode” which is Mario Tennis without the fancy new mechanics. Here players take to the courts with only Top Spin, Flat, Slice, Lob and Drop shots. I thought I would enjoy playing the simple mode more than standard mode, but it seems that simple mode might be too simple. Nonetheless, simple mode adds nice variety to the selection of different game modes to try.
Lastly, we gotta talk about Swing Mode, which is the Wii Tennis version of Mario Tennis. Players can use the motion sensors in a joy con to swing the rackets of their favorite mushroom kingdom characters. The idea is novel and may warrant a few tries with your more casual gaming friends, but I found the inconsistent controller input too severe to play competitively.
In tournament mode, players start at the bottom of a tournament bracket and win their way to the championship match. Each time you climb a rung in the bracket, you face-off against another player of equal or greater skill, based on their past winning performance. This constant struggle to beat tougher and tougher opponents, makes Tournament Mode a great addition to the online offering of Mario Tennis Aces.
Free Play Mode is a bit odd in how you navigate for online play, but it allows one or two players to join or make their own lobby, while also choosing their match preferences. The netcode was noticeably slow in this area, most likely because each individual player has their own unique match criteria.
Overall, the online offering is pretty slim in the variety department, but what is there works well, and offers a great way to hone your tennis skills.
Mario Tennis Aces continues to build on the new era of Nintendo User Interfaces. Navigating to different game modes is quick and easy and customizing each match to your liking is crystal clear from the beginning.
The soundtrack for Mario Tennis Aces doesn’t stand out, because it’s more or less what you would expect from a Mario sports game; upbeat, rock tunes that match the tone of your grand tennis adventure.
Aces could well be the first Nintendo game I’ve played on the Switch that doesn’t match the level of polish I’ve come to expect from a mainline Mario Title. Character models are rough in appearance and a lot of cutscene sequences seem to be awkwardly short. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it was definitely noticeable during my playthrough of the main story.
Mario Tennis Aces is by far, a better Mario Tennis game than its predecessor, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash. The new zone mechanics add complexity to gameplay and playing split-screen with friends is still loads of fun. With new characters adding to the roster on a monthly basis and the ability to challenge other players online, Mario Tennis Aces does enough right to earn a spot in your Switch catalogue.