Friday, April 13, 2012

PAX East 2012: Mario Tennis Open

At Nintendo’s PAX East booth, I managed to get hands-on with Nintendo’s new 3DS sports title, Mario Tennis Open. Developed by Camelot, Mario Tennis Open is the newest handheld Mario Tennis game and the first Mario sports game on the 3DS. While Mario sports titles have not been my forte, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get into the game.

While the latest Mario Tennis games were filled with over-powered trick shots, Mario Tennis Open felt more like the original Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64 with more focus on basic tennis skills and polished experiences rather than super-power gimmicks. Instead of using uber flashy special moves, the matches I played were won based on skill and timing. This was handled nicely with the game's easy-to-use controls. It felt natural moving the characters around the court with the circle pad, and making various shots with the face buttons was easy. Mario Tennis Open also features buttons and combo shortcuts on the touch screen, but I preferred using the face buttons since looking at the touch screen took my eyes off the action on the top screen.

The build at the show floor appeared to be the final build as it was filled with various modes and gameplay options. Besides the usual single player matches, there are Multiplayer Matches, which include Online Multiplayer, and Special Games which are designed to harden one’s abilities on the court. While old favorites like Ring Shot have returned from older Mario Tennis games, my favorite Special Game mode was the new Super Mario Tennis. Here players rally the tennis ball against a large screen scrolling through a level from Super Mario Bros. When the ball hits an object on the screen, it acts like if Mario hit it in-game. When my tennis ball hit a block on screen, the block broke apart. When I hit a Goomba, it got squished. My favorite part was when I hit a Warp Pipe and was warped into a secret underground chamber. The game even gave me points based on how high the tennis ball hit the Flag Pole. Of all the modes in Mario Tennis Open, this one surprised me the most and had me smiling the whole time.

Some people might be disappointed to hear that there is no RPG mechanic in this game, but I did happen to notice something RPG-esque hidden within Mario Tennis Open. Within the game’s Club House, players can customize their Mii character with various items such as clothes and rackets, which can be purchased or unlocked by playing matches. While customizing the game’s Mii, I noticed that select clothes had various stats attached to them; upgrading you Mii’s abilities by equipping better attire sounds a lot like an RPG to me. Even though I only had a peek at this area, it could be quite helpful at making your Mii character match your play style when challenging people online. It might not be a full scale RPG, but at least it’s something.

If you have ever heard the music from Mario Tennis before, you’ll find that Open’s soundtrack sounds fairly similar to it although it now has a few references to newer games like Super Mario Galaxy. As for the game’s audio, each character is fully voiced with grunts and one-liners that are also a staple in Mario sports titles.  The announcer could have been better, but it did not detract from the experience.

Graphically, the game looked just as good as its console predecessors, with fluid animations, detailed characters, and varied environments. The frame rate remained the same no matter if the 3d was on or off, although I am not sure if this will change when played online. One interesting feature was the ability to change the game’s camera angle from overhead to over-the-shoulder by simply tilting the 3DS upright. While it didn’t change the gameplay, it offered a viewing angle that amplified the game’s 3d effects.  There is additional use with the gyro sensors, but I did not test them out thoroughly in my time playing the game.

Mario Tennis Open felt like another great addition to the Mario Tennis franchise. While the touch screen and gyro features have not really changed the game, returning to plain, solid tennis gameplay did. With online multiplayer and special games like Super Mario Tennis, Mario Tennis Open seems to be another great serve by Nintendo to get people excited about the 3DS. I would like to see more of the Mii customization system and online services before making any final judgment on it, but those of you sold already should look out for Mario Tennis Open for the Nintendo 3DS this Spring.

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